Unexpectedly Intriguing!
September 7, 2005

Not long ago, EU Rota's Gea3 posed an interesting question that specifically applies to economist Paul Krugman, who writes a regular column for the New York Times:

Why does a person who writes excellent books on the subject of economics feel so compelled to distort reality in his columns for the NYT?

Without focusing on the nature of the distortions of reality that frequently populate his columns in the New York Times, the answer to the question may lie in Krugman's so-far successful practical application of economic theory - in this case, Krugman's apparent pursuit of Profit Maximization. Under this theory, Krugman is exploiting weaknesses in the New York Times' editorial practices that allow the newspaper's columnists to have their work published without any real fact-checking on the part of the newspaper's editors and management of any kind. As a result, Krugman is able to minimize the amount of labor he must expend in producing his column while collecting a regular paycheck.

That the New York Times does not monitor the factual accuracy of its columnists is confirmed by New York Times Vice President of Corporate Communications Catherine Mathis, who notes that the New York Times' columnists themselves are responsible for their own fact-checking. (HT: Conspiracy to Keep You Poor and Stupid.) Given that checking the facts that appear in his columns would increase the amount of labor he would have to expend in writing them, Krugman instead appears to maximize his income from the New York Times by omitting this basic form of quality control from his writing process for the newspaper.

Since the New York Times does not seem to require a high standard for quality in its op-ed pages, at least as measured by factual accuracy, Krugman appears to have simply tailored his workload to meet the minimum requirement - a rare example of an economist who actually economizes! Then again, it might simply be a form of rent-seeking, an alternative theory that is supported by reports of Krugman's previous episodes in dealing with substantive criticism (free, registration required) related to the factual accuracy of his columns.

By contrast, when Krugman publishes a book, the editors of the publishing company must thoroughly review the text to ensure that the facts presented within the book are correct or risk failure in the marketplace. As a result, Krugman must expend a greater amount of labor to produce his work, as a higher standard of quality is required. This higher level of required labor also partially explains why Krugman doesn't write more books, as he is able to produce comparatively more columns for the New York Times with substantially less labor.

Not to beat up the New York Times any more, but recurring problems in product quality are ALWAYS the result of how a production system is organized and operated. At a minimum, a true quality control system must provide for preventing problems from occurring in the first place as well as for detecting and correcting problems when they do occur. That the newspaper's content quality continues to be an ongoing issue is itself more of a question of the commitment on the part of the organization's management to produce a high-quality, factually-accurate product in the first place.

Then again, maybe we should just take a poll to get to the bottom of the matter! Pick what you believe to be the best explanation for Paul Krugman's frequent mistatements of fact below. The answers have been selected from those most frequently offered by others, and range from the unlikely (incompetence) to those reasons suggested above. If you don't believe any one of these options truly fit the bill, there's even a choice for you (other, not listed):

Free polls from Pollhost.com
What explains Paul Krugman's frequent mistatements of fact?
Profit Maximization
Rent Seeking
Insufficient Quality Control
Political Hackery
Other, Not Listed

The poll will be open over through the weekend, with results posted here early next week!

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