What is reductio ad abstinentis? Let Paul Krugman demonstrate

Reductio ad abstinentis — essentially, the hope that by completely ignoring an opponent’s point and saying nothing to answer it, that point will magically vanish.
As described in The Locker Room

John Goodman’s blog today discusses the special problem for economists presented by Paul Krugman. Note that he uses the word problem, not challenge. As he explains, “Most members of my profession think they have a duty to the profession. When they speak to the public, they want their colleagues to see that in the process of simplifying for a lay audience, they have fairly and accurately reported what economic research shows.”

That is not the case for Krugman, however, as has been discussed here on occasion. Goodman writes:

Let’s start with last Friday’s column. It was about the sad state of the labor market.

Since Barack Obama took office almost 10 million people have dropped out of the labor force. More than half a million dropped out in the last month alone. Today, a record 90 million people — almost one third of the entire population — are not working and not even looking for a job.

“How did that happen?” Krugman asks. One answer is supplied by University of Chicago economist Casey Mulligan — one of the top labor market economists in the country and a regular contributor to The New York Times economics blog. In a new book, Mulligan estimates that roughly half of the excess unemployment we have been experiencing is due to the lure of entitlement benefits — food stamps, unemployment compensation, disability benefits, etc. In other words, we are paying people not to work. In a separate analysis, Mulligan estimates that much of the remaining unemployment may be due to other Obama administration policies, especially the Affordable Care Act.

So what does Krugman have to say about Mulligan’s study? Nothing. Nothing? Not a thing. Not about Casey’s study or any other serious study. But he rejects Mulligan’s conclusion by claiming that the fall in labor force participation

wasn’t a mass outbreak of laziness, and right-wing claims that jobless Americans aren’t trying hard enough to find work because they’re living high on food stamps and unemployment benefits should be treated with the contempt they deserve.

Ignoring the evidence to the contrary and hoping it disappears is a key weapon in the illogician’s arsenal. It’s what made Monty Python’s Black Knight so utterly invincible.

This Black Knight, however, had already co-published an economic textbook discussing the ramifications of his arm having been chopped off, as it were. The straw man Goodman quotes above will no doubt remind Locker Room readers of Krugman’s recent attack on North Carolina’s “meanspirited” unemployment insurance reform with a good many of the rhetorical weapons at his disposal (see the arsenal described above).

Nevertheless, I cannot resist pointing out again that Krugman is not just ignoring Mulligan’s research and, in Goodman’s words, “pretend[ing] that an entire body of empirical research doesn’t even exist.” He’s also ignoring or pretending away his own work (yes, once again). I quote from page 210 of his book Macroeconomics with Robin Wells:

Public policy designed to help workers who lose their jobs can lead to structural unemployment as an unintended side effect. Most economically advanced countries provide benefits to laid-off workers as a way to tide them over until they find a new jobs. In the United States, these benefits typically replace only a small fraction of a worker’s income and expire after 26 weeks. In other countries, particularly in Europe, benefits are more generous and last longer. The drawback to this generosity is that it reduces a worker’s incentive to quickly find a new job. Generous unemployment benefits in some European countries are widely believed to be one of the main causes of ‘Eurosclerosis,’ the persistent high unemployment that affects a number of European countries.

Of course, quoting past Paul Krugman in response to present Paul Krugman is, to Paul Krugman, a personal attack.


Other entries discussing illogical arguments include these responses to silly attacks against: RoyDarenGeorge, Dr. Roy Spencer, N.C. policymakers reforming unemployment insurance, expert consensus that rail transit wouldn’t work in Wake County, people who hold ideas disliked by media but can in any way be linked to a Koch brother (I, II, III, IV), privatizing alcoholpeople who question a Ph.D. in rhetoric, and Jon Ham.

Jon Sanders / Director of Regulatory Studies

Jon Sanders studies regulatory policy, a veritable kudzu of invasive government and unintended consequences. As director of regulatory studies at the John Locke Foundation, Jo...

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