Paul Krugman New York TimesMARCH 18, 2014, 1:39 PM High Fallutin’ Nazis
Here comes another billionaire who thinks that anyone who talks about income inequality is a Nazi; this time it’s Ken Langone, co-founder of Home Depot. I don’t have anything useful to say about this, other than the observation that there must be a lot of these guys. I mean, there aren’t that many billionaires, so that coming up with multiple examples of the genus who not only believe that progressives are just like Hitler but are willing to say so in public must indicate that a substantial proportion of our billionaires share this belief, but more privately. Luckily, great wealth doesn’t bring great political influence in modern America — does it?
But Jonathan Cohn’s report on Langone brought to mind an earlier rant by the same guy, in which he denounced yours truly and my “high-fallutin’ thoughts and ideas.” And I think, now that I remember that, that this rant (and others like it) gives a partial clue to the mystery of the continuing popularity of the Wall Street macro canon, despite its total failure in practice.
For what, after all, was Langone raging against? Well, me, of course. But not, presumably, against “high-fallutin” ideas in general: Langone can’t really be a stupid man, and I’m sure that when it comes to, say, information systems for inventory management hes’ quite willing to accept the idea that some things are technical and require some knowledge.
No, what I think he’s really raging against are two things. First is the idea that understanding economics, as opposed to other issues, might involve some kind of special expertise. This is an all too common problem with the wealthy, and maybe especially among self-made men: they think that their personal financial success means that they understand the economic system, and bristle at the notion that macroeconomics may be more than the sum of individual business strategies.
The other source of his rage — and this, I think, gets to the right-wing canon — is fury at the notion that sometimes scarcity doesn’t rule. For many people on the right, it has to be true — just has to be true — that prosperity is limited by the willingness of productive people (that is, people like them) to produce. The idea that sometimes the problem is instead lack of demand, that the failure is a system malfunction rather than a lack of sufficient effort, is anathema. Among other things, it suggests that sometimes people succeed or fail for reasons that have nothing to do with their personal talents and virtues or lack thereof, a suggestion that they — who believe that their personal success was entirely earned — find deeply offensive.
And so when you say that this is a depressed economy in which deficits don’t crowd out private spending, in which printing money doesn’t mean inflation that expropriates their hard-earned wealth, they don’t listen to the argument, let alone pay attention to evidence. They take it as a personal affront, and start yelling about your high-fallutin nonsense.