Paul Krugman is not happy with my post on echo-chamber etiquette for America’s public intellectuals. As widely read public intellectuals, Paul Krugman and Noah Smith have an obligation to present a description of the world that’s as accurate as possible. They have an even greater responsibility to liberal readers who are attracted to ideas that fit well with their preconceptions about the nature of reality.
Krugman points out that he wasn’t really attacking Sargent but rather commentators who posted favorable comments about Sargent’s commencement address. Fair enough. Paul is not attacking Sargent, and I think he’s justified in pointing out that it is curious that such favorable comments are being highlighted now when the U.S. economy is still in a weakened state and when problems with income inequality are finally getting the attention they deserve.
He also suggests that the right wing echo chamber is worse than the left wing echo chamber. He writes that
America, it goes without saying, has a powerful, crazy right wing. There’s nothing equivalent on the left — yes, there are individual crazy leftists, but nothing like the organized, lavishly financed madness on the right.
I don’t think I would put it quite so strongly but I think again Krugman is basically correct – the “crazy right wing” has assumed too much influence over the broader parts of conservative America and this is surely a bad thing. The left, thankfully, is not at that point yet.
This however gets at what I was trying (perhaps unsuccessfully) to say in my earlier post. The current condition of the right is the inevitable consequence of an environment in which crazy ideas are bandied about cavalierly and amplified to the point at which they become unquestioned. I think this was also the point of the NYT column by Nicholas Kristof.
Now, neither Noah’s post nor Krugman’s post are crazy. Neither is “wrong.” But neither is the message that their more liberal readers need to hear. To me it seems obvious that the proper response to an extreme right-wing statement like “tax cuts pay for themselves” can’t be “oh yeah, well extra government spending pays for itself.” If I could dictate the reading habits of my fellow Americans, I might put Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century on the bedside table of every conservative but I would put Sargent’s 12 principles on the bedside table of every liberal.
 Krugman points out (again correctly) that there may be efficiency gains to having a more efficient distribution of income. This is true though I strongly suspect that the overall efficiency costs to achieving a more desirable income distribution will outweigh these benefits. Of course, I strongly suspect that, if we are careful about how we go about redistributing income, the overall gains in welfare from having a more equal income distribution will outweigh the loss in efficiency.