Pop quiz: What makes Irish people mad?

Question: What makes Irish people mad?

A) The British

B) Stereotypes of drunkenness

C) Being deprived of beer

D) NY Times economic columnists

E) All of the above but especially D

If you answered E, you’re correct! This week, the editors and bloggers of Irishcentral.com whipped themselves into a collective frenzy over Paul Krugman’s recent column in the Times. You can read it yourself (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/20/opinion/20krugman.html), but the gist of the article is that Ireland is in dire financial straits, and the U.S. could easily fall prey to the same situation on an even larger scale. My disclaimer here is that I am no financial whiz. I will leave the thoughtful criticism to the experts – of whom Paul Krugman, love him or loathe him, is one. Krugman is surely wrong sometimes, but he won the Pulitzer Prize for Economics and teaches at Princeton. He isn’t dumb.

As far as I’m concerned, his most egregious error in the so-called “Irish-bashing” column was his clumsy title, “Erin Go Broke,” and botched explanation of the anglicized phrase. But the day after his column hit, this web site’s editors jumped on Krugman faster than I can chug a car bomb (which is fast, in case anyone needs to be reminded).

Many readers made excellent points in the comments section, points that I swear I thought of first, but they must type faster than me. The most absurd statement made by our editors: “Nowhere in his column has he talked about the Irish people other than as statistics. That could be because he has never met them, or is ignorant of their history.

First of all, Krugman is an economist, a mathematician, a statistician. He’s not a historian or social critic. It would be offensive if Krugman wrote a column characterizing the Irish as anything beyond statistics; he’s not qualified to do that, nor is he required to do that. Secondly, are the editors seriously suggesting that Krugman has never met an Irish person, and that he also has no idea that the Irish have been historically oppressed by the British? Doubtful. (Again, refer to Pulitzer.)

Our friendly neighborhood Wolfhound also chewed on Krugman’s article, echoing (almost exactly!) the editors’ words: “Interesting that nowhere in his column did he talk about the Irish people in ways other than statistics. That could be because he’s never met them, either as a writer or a sitcom star.” He then proceeds to refer to Krugman as if he were Jack Klugman, aged star of The Odd Couple (hence the sitcom star reference). It’s too convoluted to be a good joke, and it’s even possible that the Wolfhound astoundingly believes Krugman the columnist and Klugman the actor to be one and the same.

And a note to the copyeditors: Putting Krugman’s title of “professor” in quotation marks has little ironic effect, because, um, he IS a professor.

Irishcentral.com does redeem itself with the well-considered opinion piece by David O’Sullivan, Executive Director of The Ireland-U.S. Council, “How Krugman got it wrong on Irish economy.” O’Sullivan points our what he believes to be mistakes and fallacies in Krugman’s arguments. This is good opinion journalism. Making fun of Paul Krugman because he teaches at an Ivy League school? Not so much.

Krugman may indeed be wrong, but let’s hear some actual evidence to that point. We do a disservice to our collective Irish voice when we publish the equivalent of sticking our fingers in our ears and doing the “La la la I can’t hear you” routine. It’s very, dare I say it, Republican – if you can’t attack the message, attack the messenger (cue Bill O’Reilly).

It’s also disturbing that our first instinct is to find the holes in Krugman’s theories, instead of turning a critical eye to those responsible for the economic crises in Ireland and in America. Krugman doesn’t blame the general population of Ireland, nor does he imply that the government had much choice in how to deal with the latest meltdowns. He states his opinion on the current state of the Irish economy and does his own patriotic duty in warning that his country might not be far behind.

Our current President is trying to drag us out of the “Mission Accomplished,” don’t look back, God-is-on-our side mentality in which our former president left us mired. President Obama encourages us as a nation, as well as our allies, to stop going on the defensive and start examining our problems openly. Bringing up the days of the Great Famine in response to a critique of contemporary Irish economic policies is as useless as bringing up slavery in a debate on education reform in this country. Let’s not do it. Let’s hold ourselves to the high standard that this web site, and this community, merits.

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