Friday, 25 April 2014

A clarification concerning my post about Paul Krugman's income

In response to my recent post about Paul Krugman's income, several people have raised the objection that, even if Krugman is in the top 1 percent, the fact that he often speaks critically about the top 1 percent does not make him a hypocrite. There are conditions under which this is indeed a reasonable objection. Here I would like to clarify those conditions.

Suppose one agrees that, over the last few years, Krugman has made at least several generalisations about the top 1 percent of earners, in each case casting them in a negative light. Suppose also that Krugman happens to be in the top 1 percent himself. And suppose a hypocrite is someone who speaks disapprovingly of people with property X, where X is something under an individual's control, while at the same time having property X himself.

If one agrees that making generalisations about a group of people that cast those people in a negative light counts as speaking disapprovingly of them, then Krugman is a hypocrite. However, it could be argued that making negative generalisations about a group of people does not actually constitute disapproval of them. Therefore, it is possible that Krugman could simply be described as a self-deprecator, rather than a hypocrite.

Furthermore, a friend of mine rightly pointed out that it would be absurd to think that Krugman makes negative generalisations about the top 1 percent of earners simply because they happen to occupy the top 1 percent of the income distribution. However, the fact that making such generalisations may imply Krugman is a hypocrite (in particular, if one accepts the argument above) is precisely the point. In other words, the fact that Krugman, someone who we have no reason to think acquires his large income through illicit means, may belong to the top 1 percent illustrates why lumping everyone in the top 1 percent together is unhelpful and misleading.

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