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Paul Krugman vs. Niall Ferguson

Since at least late spring, economist Paul Krugman and historian Niall Ferguson have been embroiled in a bitter feud, which today boiled over into name-calling. Herein, a brief history:

April 30: A panel sponsored by The New York Review of Books/PEN at the Metropolitan Museum of Art devolved into an argument between the pair over the government’s issuing of Treasury bonds: Ferguson thought flooding the market with them would force interest rates upwards, Krugman said that it wouldn’t. “If you wanna try the Soviet model, fine … ” Ferguson said. In response, Krugman groaned dramatically.

May 2: A couple of days later, Krugman blogs about “what I found the most depressing aspect of the whole thing: further confirmation that we’re living in a Dark Age of macroeconomics,” using as an example Niall Ferguson…

“explaining” that fiscal expansion will actually be contractionary, because it will drive up interest rates. At least that’s what I think he said; there were so many flourishes that it’s hard to tell. But in any case, this is really sad: John Hicks knew far more about this in 1937 than people who think they’re sophisticates know now.

May 29: Ferguson follows up with an op-ed in the Financial Times, calling Krugman “patronising.” “I do not need lessons about the General Theory,” he wrote. “But I think perhaps Mr. Krugman would benefit from a refresher course about that work’s historical context.”

August 10: Ferguson writes an op-ed for the FT in which he compares President Obama to Felix the Cat. “Felix was not only black,” he wrote. “He was also very, very lucky. And that pretty much sums up the 44th president of the US.” Krugman, on the phone with the Observer discussing his apartment, gasps aloud when he reads it. The piece sets off a furor over its perceived racist undertones.

August 12: Krugman writes on his blog that he is flabbergasted by the comparison: “What I really can’t fathom is how any editor could think this was a good thing to appear in the FT’s pages,” he writes, somewhat gleefully.

I cannot fathom the state of mind that led Ferguson to think this was a good way to introduce a column; admittedly, it doesn’t really distract from his larger point, since as far as I can tell he doesn’t have one.

When Ferguson attempts to explain himself on the Huffington Post<.a>, Krugman updates his post:

He’s a whiner, too.”

August 17: Ferguson demands Krugman print a response to his item on his blog, in which he quotes Henry Louis Gates Jr., of all people, saying Ferguson’s comparison wasn’t racist. Krugman does. Then he adds:

For the record, I don’t think that Professor Ferguson is a racist.

I think he’s a poseur.

I’m told that some of his straight historical work is very good. When it comes to economics, however, he hasn’t bothered to understand the basics, relying on snide comments and surface cleverness to convey the impression of wisdom. It’s all style, no comprehension of substance.

We do wish they’d stop bickering like this — it just looks bad. Ferguson should really just get on a plane, come over here, and finish this thing like a man — by which we mean give Krugman a massive wedgie.

Paul Krugman vs. Niall Ferguson