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Paul Krugman vs Milton Friedman - who would win the debate?

paul krugman vs milton friedman


Scott Smith
Title: Experienced CFO/Interim CFO
Company: Self-Employed
(Experienced CFO/Interim CFO, Self-Employed) |

Milton Friedman was a brilliant, original scholar, an articulate speaker, and a humble and decent man. Paul Krugman is a foolish, unstable, emotional clown and a partisan hack. Compare anything Friedman ever said publicly with Krugman's recent take on the truly bizarre $1 trillion platinum coin "plan" for dealing with the debt ceiling. This "debate" would be like watching a boxing match between Mike Tyson in his prime and Macaulay Culkin.

Scott Cadora
Title: Vice President
Company: Pinnacle Business Solutions, Inc.
LinkedIn Profile
(Vice President, Pinnacle Business Solutions, Inc.) |

My personal opinion is that Milton Friedman's free market ideology is far superior to Krugman's quasi-Keynsian ideology. As for who would win in a theoretical face-to-face debate, Friedman would win hands down. Primarily because as a college professor, Friedman publicly discussed and defended his viewpoint on a daily basis to a broad audience of students, fellow academics, politicians, journalists and business professionals. Conversely, as a journalist, Krugman's daily regimen is far more insular. Writing articles and books and speaking with like minded fellow journalists does not generally expose one to the type of constant intellectual pushback that helps to refine and improve one's argument. And at the end of the day, Milton was a genial, likable grandfather figure while Krugman is a rather prickly type who seems to be easily offended.

Topic Expert
Bob Scarborough
Title: CEO
Company: Tensoft, Inc.
(CEO, Tensoft, Inc.) |

Affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University, He has been an a respected academic (Nobel Prize in Economics, Prince of Asturias Awards, John Bates Clark Medal, H. C. Recktenwald Prize in Economics, etc etc) and author prior to his joining the more partisan fray of the last 12-15 years.

As to agreement or disagreement between the two of them – I believe there would be both. Both would be against most government subsidies of business as market distorting – where Krugman would undoubtedly disagree is on the government need to intervene when it is strategic to do so. Both would agree that some government regulation is required – since businesses do not operate without seeking unfair advantage either from the government either in taxes or regulation or in other market distorting requirements (see collusion and natural monopoly). They would diverge on the extent businesses need to be regulated – but no serious (prior to our current ideological purity period) economist believes in no regulation at all.

Modern conservatives would be dismayed to find Freedman was not a social conservative in the modern sense – for example he promoted the idea that free markets should guide personal sins (see illegal drug policy or position for example) so in that way he was more true to his principles than many modern folks who claim him for guidance for conservative policy. On the other hand he had the luxury of never having to be practical or pragmatic in the application of his principles to political realities.

So on to the rest of this argument – Keynesianism, current newstainment, and the debate. Most of the established economic world – academics, researches, published works, believes some Keynesianism (government intervention) is needed in times of severe (and financial rather than business cycle led) financial downturns. This is because they believe that this type of downturn creates a demand void – and when no one in the free market can step into this void to address it the government needs to be the demand of last resort. Many free market journals (see the Economist, etc) believe this. What they are saying is not that free market ideology is bad – they are saying that all systems are imperfect and that pragmatic solutions are needed to keep things afloat.

There are some facts for this – a real world example. US and EU both when into the same type of downturn – US did some stimulus and EU did not – and US economy has performed better. Those are facts – although partisans will find some way to disagree.

Which brings me to the “foolish, unstable, emotional clown and a partisan hack” which basically describes 99% of the analyst and talking heads on TV. All of them on all sides are foolish at times – since current entertainment focused news where we only hear our partisan perspective reality began. Freedman never had to work in this environment – never was a talking head, never was punished for saying something against the orthodoxy of a party even if that party is inconsistent in their analysis from one minute to the next. Yes I would say everyone who steps to the plate as an analyst and opinion leader on today’s TV is all of that statement – including Krugman.

One of the biggest challenges of this era – something Friedman never faced – was our current inability to agree on facts. We can’t agree on simple verifiable things – which makes debate and argument or even intelligent conversation extremely challenging. The debt limit debate is a great point. Most people familiar with the mechanism would acknowledge: (a) it has nothing to do with spending – it is merely setting the government ability to borrow money for what they have already spent; and (b) until 2011 it was never controversial. In short – it is politics and economics – it is talking heads making up unreality about what it means and arguing for the ridiculous – it is politicians grandstanding rather than addressing real pragmatic governing. Given the whole discussion is ridiculous – anyone who talks about it as anything other than what it really is creates more foolishness. Krugman has been silly – even to calling out John Stewart for not supporting him – but that is more visible silly – something everyone has been on this topic.

All of this said – I will agree with all the previous posters on this thread. Friedman was a better debater than Krugman. Krugman doesn’t really think as well on his feet, and doesn’t debate on the same manner. That doesn’t mean he is a buffoon and all of his ideas are ridiculous – it means he is not a skilled debator.

Topic Expert
Bob Scarborough
Title: CEO
Company: Tensoft, Inc.
(CEO, Tensoft, Inc.) |

By the way - why have Krugman debate Friedman - since this is obviously not just people around today. Why not have Friedman debate Keyes - which would be a more even debate.

(Manager) |

Bob, although many would have a familiarity with the high points of Keynes' work, fewer would have a handle on his ability to debate or make his case due to his pre-TV death in 1946.

I'm interested in both the facts (or opinions of the facts) as well as who you believe would make the more compelling case.

Why, is Krugman less of a winning presenter of greater government intervention than Keynes?

Ram Hariharan
Title: Technology Director
Company: Expedia, Inc.
(Technology Director, Expedia, Inc.) |

Define "win."

People have different criteria. For some it is "would I be wealthy under that regime?" for others it might be "would society be wealthier under than regime?" For others it woudl be "who had the best sound bites?" If those two were having a public debate, who 'wins' would depend heavily on the makeup of the audience.

For the record... Krugman is also professor and has to defend his ideas among equally educated peers. You don't just write a bunch of baloney and get honored with a Nobel Prize in economics. Otherwise, we'd all have one by now. ;-)

The more interesting question is whether a rational, initially neutral person, gathering evidence from modern economies would agree more with Krugman/Keynes or Friedman. Both can (and have) been applied (and misapplied) with frankly mixed results. Can you have Keynes without moral hazard in government? Can you have Friedman "free markets" without systemically creating price-distorting externalities?

More interesting question - how do we get past "either-or" discussions to have intelligent discussion about the specifics: what sorts of regulation makes sense and how to make regulation economically efficient. We should discuss how we solve problems of market failure, regulatory failure, regulatory capture, etc. Hard problems with, as yet, no easy answers...

Topic Expert
Bob Scarborough
Title: CEO
Company: Tensoft, Inc.
(CEO, Tensoft, Inc.) |

Agreed - and nicely said.

It appears to me there are no perfect systems - just some more functional than others. Given real world complexities and realities, purity is rarely an asset. Intelligent people having discussions with what is needed in each scenario would be more effective than pure ideologues arguing over policy purity. Theory and history are useful and effective and should be used as guides. Trusting that your theory has reached perfection for all externalities and in all scenarios is far from a 'humble and decent' person’s perspective.

Topic Expert
Bob Scarborough
Title: CEO
Company: Tensoft, Inc.
(CEO, Tensoft, Inc.) |

Friedman is no longer around either (deceased November 16, 2006) - so if we are literally assuming you must be present then Krugman wins by default. If you have ever read any of Krugman's books (prior to the year 2000) you will find he writes clearly and understandably about challenging topics - and that he is an original thinker on economics.

If this question is just about debate - who was a better debater - then that is where the Friedman vs. Keynes debate is better than a Friedman vs. Krugman. Just my opinion – but I think Krugman puts is thoughts together better in writing than he does in person. Some people are good debaters – which requires a combination of subject knowledge, the type of mind that processes arguments quickly, and the type of mind that organizes your response so that it is compelling on the fly. There are plenty of brilliant people in the world who are not compelling debaters.

If you are asking whose ideas are better – Friedman or Krugman – I would think that more of a current political partisan debate that doesn’t really belong at Proformative.

(Manager) |

I think there's something to be said for seeing/hearing a person make the case for what they believe-in via a long form, whether in-person, on live tv or recorded in addition to their writing.... living or dead.

Both Friedman and Krugman were professors, original thinkers, wrote books, newspaper columns, appear/ed on tv (Friedman had a PBS series) and both won the Nobel Prize in Economics.

The question may improperly imply that who wins is the important part. I'm more interested in why one man's economic ideas may resonate a bit more than the others. "Debate" is merely a word for fully exploring two positions which, who knows, may yield some agreement.

It's really a matter of, in whose opinion, are one man's ideas a bit more right for the time, which ideas and why?

On some level everything is political. Believing or working in the free enterprise system is political. There's no Proformative guideline against political, which this discussion is not.

Here are a few Friedman quotes:

"The problem of social organization is how to set up an arrangement under which greed will do the least harm. Capitalism is that kind of system."

"If you put the federal government in charge of the Sahara Desert, in 5 years there'd be a shortage of sand."

"So that the record of history is absolutely crystal clear. That there is no alternative way, so far discovered, of improving the lot of ordinary people that can hold a candle to the productive activities that are unleashed by a free enterprise system."

and a few of Krugman quotes:

"The real danger with debt is what happens if lots of people decide, or are forced, to pay it off at the same time."

"We know that advanced economies with stable governments that borrow in their own currency are capable of running up very high levels of debt without crisis."

"I think so long as fossil fuels are cheap, people will use them and it will postpone a movement toward new technologies."

Topic Expert
Bob Scarborough
Title: CEO
Company: Tensoft, Inc.
(CEO, Tensoft, Inc.) |

You are not offering comparable quotes between the two. You offered nothing from Friedman on Debt or regulation - and offered only things from Krugman that show where free market economics (in his opinion) breaks down.

Here a quote / concept from Friedman where he states there is no better alternative to regulation or government intervention:

Milton Friedman states in the case of natural monopolies, “there is only a choice among three evils: private unregulated monopoly, private monopoly regulated by the state, and government operation.” He said “the least of these evils is private unregulated monopoly where this is tolerable.” He reasons that the other alternatives are “exceedingly difficult to reverse,” and that the dynamics of the market should be allowed the opportunity to have an effect and are likely to do so. However, he does go onto state that if the commodity in question is an “essential” like power and water, and the monopoly power is “sizable”, then “either public regulation or ownership may be a lesser evil.”\

So there you have Friedman saying highly regulated or government managed is the way to go in this scenario - including the applied advocacy of government or regulation mandated investment related to the industry.

Or how about this - youtube video of Friedman talking specifically about Keynes. Leaving aside Friedman's famous quote that we are all Keynesian's now (referring more to language and technical approach) this video specifically has Friedman stating Keynes ideas were the right ones for the 1930s. See:

So there you have the economist most often quoted by the current people who state all demand side efforts are hopeless refuting what they say by stating in a time and place stimulus and government generated demand are required.

I can find quote from Krugman defending free markets as well. Friedman's show was in a different era and had a different audience an tenor - I maintain there is no comparison of prior reporting to what exists post 2000.

The two gentlemen would disagree on the extent of government intervention, and where government would need to invest. However both of them would have agreed on the need for stimulus in a depression type scenario - and both believe the free markets are not perfect.

(Manager) |

Great add to the conversation, Bob. Especially Friedman's weighing of the three evils.

Yes, you are right, three quotes can't possibly cover two such well documented individuals. I appreciate that you added some of your own.

I also enjoyed the link to Friedman's video. Such a gentleman. You can also look at it like Friedman is saying that some, maybe like Krugman, may not have gotten the memo (from Keynes himself) on the limits and applicability of Keynesian economics.


Title: Manager, Financial Systems Architecture
Company: CITGO Petroleum Corporation
(Manager, Financial Systems Architecture, CITGO Petroleum Corporation) |

We would all benefit from such a discussion between these two men. All too often we focus on the 'win' and ignore the benefits to our intellect from the sharing of ideas. I would spend less time keeping score and more time focused on how much wiser *I* was afterward.

Arnold Kezsbom
Title: CFO
Company: Earnest Products, Inc.
(CFO, Earnest Products, Inc.) |

It’s not even a question! Dr. Friedman was probably the greatest Economist of the 20th century!


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