Update: Paul Krugman comments:
Don’t Know Much About (Ancient) History: The things I do for book sales. I debated, sort of, Ron Paul on Bloomberg.Video here. I thought we might have a discussion of why the runaway inflation he and his allies keep predicting keeps not happening. But no, he insisted (if I understood him correctly) that currency debasement and price controls destroyed the Roman Empire. I responded that I am not a defender of the economic policies of the Emperor Diocletian.
Actually, though, appeals to what supposedly happened somewhere in the distant past are quite common on the goldbug side of economics. And it’s kind of telling.
I mean, history is essential to economic analysis. You really do want to know, say, about the failure of Argentina’s convertibility law, of the effects of Chancellor Brüning’s dedication to the gold standard, and many other episodes.
Somehow, though, people like Ron Paul don’t like to talk about events of the past century, for which we have reasonably good data; they like to talk about events in the dim mists of history, where we don’t really know what happened. And I think that’s no accident. Partly it’s the attempt of the autodidact to show off his esoteric knowledge; but it’s also the fact that because we don’t really know what happened — what really did go down during the Diocletian era? — you can project what you think should have happened onto the sketchy record, then claim vindication for whatever you want to believe.
It’s funny, in a way — except that this sort of thinking dominates one of our two main political parties.