An unusual coalition has developed at New York Times op-ed meetings – sworn enemies libertarian Tyler Cowen and socialist Paul Krugman have banded together to oppose the new NYT paywall.  Cowen and Krugman could not be further apart philosophically.

An ardent believer in the esoteric “Coase Theorem”, Cowen opposes all government intervention except to enforce property rights.  He believes everything else can be “left to the market” and “rational agents will negotiate their way to the efficient frontier”.  Krugman is now a behavioral economics fanatic.  To Krugman, rational agents are some hypothetical ideal that is never seen in the “real world”.  If people make mistakes, a government or a super-intelligent being – as Krugman believes himself to be – can make decisions on their behalf.  Hence, the Nobel Prize winner thinks consumers, firms, banks, investors, in fact pretty much anybody should be pushed not nudged into making good decisions.  Indeed, Krugman is writing a new book “Shove” to act as a counterpoint to the milder forms of intervention proposed by the Chicago School of Behavioral Economics.

Naturally, op-ed meetings were quite lively with these two extremists in the same virtual room via Skype.  But NYT Editor Bill Keller and owner Arthur Sulzberger are looking back at those meetings with misty eyed nostalgia now Cowen and Krugman have ganged up.  Both commentators are hopping mad about the paywall but for quite different reasons.

Libertarian Cowen thinks his column belongs to him and that the NYT has violated his property rights by making money from his columns without compensating him.  Also, he and Alex Tabarrok have a highly successful website, Marginal Revolution, which is free.  Cowen makes money from the advertising the site carries as well as from speaking gigs his fame generates.  His free-up-till-now column for the NYT was another part of this business model.

Krugman has quite different motives.  Most importantly, he simply wants his radical message to get out to as wide an audience as possible.  A paywall might stop that.  Second, Krugman is  obsessed with the size of his readership.  In the internal impact ratings followed at newspapers, the newspaper equivalent of Google Scholar, Krugman is number one. But the paywall might allow his archenemy George Will at the (free-after-you-register) Washington Post to leap ahead.

So, Cowen and Krugman are planning a Twitter-murder of the NYT paywall.  Each will link to NYT articles in Twitter messages and send them to vast legions of loyal followers. These links are free and subvert the entire logic of the paywall.  They may overwhelm traffic at the NYT.  If Twitter can get rid of a dictator in Egypt, surely it can tear down a paywall.

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