History

Stop the Presses: Paul Krugman Read a Book

Paul Krugman attends The Russia Forum 2012 in Moscow February 2, 2012. (Anton Golubev/Reuters)
But the Nobel winner still needs a history lesson.

Al Gore’s got a Nobel Prize. Jimmy Carter’s got a Nobel Prize. Yasser Arafat’s got a Nobel Prize. I could go on. But this should be enough for anyone to gauge the decline of the old Norwegian institute that has always been as overrated by the world’s elites as Barack Obama’s salsa-dancing skills. Another controversial Nobel laureate, Paul Krugman, has become a trending topic of late because he read a book. Specifically, a book by historian David Gates on the Spanish War of Independence, The Spanish Ulcer: A History of the Peninsular War. To celebrate, he has tweeted out a thread that draws parallels between Spain in 1808 and the Taliban in 2021. This is no joke. Broadly speaking, his thesis is that Spain and the Taliban shared a religious fanaticism that prevented them from progressing.

In his thread (more like barbed wire), Krugman forgot to point out that, in 1808, Spanish women were not objects to be controlled but heroines on the front line of battle during the revolt against a French invader. But this is only part of why this comparison should be discarded out of hand.

Krugman begins his historical-fiction dissertation by clarifying something that needed no clarifying: “I claim no insight into the disaster in Afghanistan, or what we could/should have done differently.” Translated into common language, this means: “I do not intend to criticize Joe Biden, not even on this occasion.”

In his delirious vision of the war we Spaniards fought, he states that the conflict “was the French against a nationalist uprising, with a strong religious component.”

“And let’s be clear,” he adds, “there was at least initially a good case for the French, who were trying to drag a backward nation into the modern world.” Ahem. Hello, Spaniard here. Excuse me?

He concludes that the Spaniards won the war due to the same reason the Taliban have now won their battle: a mixture of closed-mindedness, fanaticism, and guerrilla warfare. I have detected only two truths in his dissertation: that Spain won the war and that the Spaniards defended themselves by waging guerrilla warfare.

You see, Spain in 1808 was not exactly a backward nation, nor did the bloodthirsty Napoleonic France represent modernity; in fact, its major accomplishment was abolishing God and the Ancien Régime and replacing them with the State (which, of course, delights the Keynesian Krugman). Burke could tell him a few things about the myth of the French enlightenment.

At that time, “backward” Spain had just completed the Balmis Expedition, a philanthropic voyage that had distributed the smallpox vaccine to every corner of the Spanish Empire, and is considered the greatest international medical campaign in history (millions of lives were saved thanks to it); and the Malaspina Expedition, a major scientific and political voyage around the world financed by the Spanish Crown. And, let’s not forget (notwithstanding the Black Legend), that centuries before, Spain had built its immense empire and astonished the world politically, militarily, and culturally, bringing Christian values (and not sharia) to all corners of the globe.

Another historical detail: Napoleon had invaded Spain with his armies and had seized power in a rather sibylline manner. It was May 1808, the Spanish State had collapsed, and, thank God, we still trusted churches more than Masonic lodges. Napoleon had sequestered the Spanish royal family outside the country, intent on dividing Spain among his family, as was his custom. But then he decided to carry out one last humiliation: He tried to take the Infantas out of Spain. This was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The news of the deportation spread, inciting an insurrection among the populace that was joined by old monarchists, distinguished members of the clergy, military, and countless anonymous citizens of all standings. The quelling of the first protests resulted in a bloodbath, and the Spanish people’s insurrection became as unstoppable as its commitment to freedom and tradition. The list of anonymous heroes who, without any previous military experience, gave their lives for the Spanish nation is moving.

On the other hand, while any comparison between 19th-century Spain and modern-day Afghanistan is absurd, the parallel between 19th-century France and modern-day United States is worse. The United States did not go to war to spur progress in Afghanistan, nor to keep the country for itself, but to exterminate a hotbed of terrorists before they spread to the whole world. Whether it went well or not is another matter, as is the fact that Biden’s clumsiness has now succeeded in turning Kabul into something much worse than Saigon in 1975.

It is not the fault of historian and author David Gates, who is not to blame for Krugman’s getting him involved in this mess. His book may not be the best, but at most, it suffers from presenting the military facts in a cold, aseptic way. Krugman has reached these delirious conclusions on his own. And it has an explanation: France came to impose on Spain in the 19th century a Great Government, prepared to devour the life, history, and freedom of the Spanish people.

The Nobel laureate from Albany is known, above all, for having succeeded in subjecting economic theory to ideology; science and medicine too, actually. In his case, that certain Frenchified, anti-Catholic, and Napoleonic admiration comes from the Keynesian side. It is not that Krugman does not believe in God, it is that his god is the State, and his two main prayers, which he piously recites daily in the New York Times, are to boost public spending and raise taxes.

Krugman applauds Biden’s economic policy with enthusiasm, because both share an old Democratic aspiration: the desire to turn the United States into any of the failed states of European social democracy. But there is one thing history has taught us: Whenever a country gets drunk on Big Government, the bill is paid by the citizens and not exactly by the rich. And by the way, there is another thing that history has taught us: You will not find an iota of Taliban terrorist savagery, nor of their hatred, nor of their contempt for women, in the whole history of Spanish Catholicism. And one last history lesson: Always be wary of a Nobel Prize winner with an agenda.

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