Paul Krugman is a partisan hack

Cite this Article
Todd Henderson, Paul Krugman is a partisan hack, Truth on the Market (December 22, 2009),

Occasionally I read Mr. Krugman’s column for entertainment purposes — sort of like watching Project Runway or Animals Gone Wild. This morning was one of those occasions. The man is a partisan hack of the worst sort. Why does anyone take his political observations seriously?

Some thoughts about this morning’s column.

1. Krugman starts by calling the pending health care legislation “an awesome achievement,” “a huge step forward,” “seriously flawed,” and something “we’ll spend years if not decades fixing it,” all in the same sentence. Huh? This just doesn’t make any sense. If this is the best we can do at the height of Democrat power and popularity (no one thinks the Democrats will consolidate power in the next election), how exactly is it a step forward? Isn’t it more likely or just as likely that the flaws in the bill will only get worse over time? What evidence is there in our history that bad laws get better, new bureaucracies shrink, or policy failures magically correct themselves over time?

Interestingly, the Republican attempts to kill the bill by opposing care rationing (so-called death panels) and a strong individual mandate may end up making the bill worse if it becomes law. If we have nationalized health care, I want both death panels and high penalties for those who don’t buy insurance. Of course, I prefer no bill at all, or something more narrowly targeted on the worst cases, like kids who get cancer and can’t get insurance or people who lose everything after contracting a horrible disease. But, the compromise we seem to be getting is the worst of all worlds, it seems.

2. Krugman would say that this is exactly his point. He notes that the “Democrats won big last year [and] [i]n any other advanced democracy this would have given them the mandate and the ability to make major changes.” A couple of responses. First, look around the world, Mr. Krugman, and point me to advanced democracies with less dysfunctional legislative processes. And, since I’m a stickler, use some objective metric to measure outcomes. Legislatures are messy places, and the genius of our constitutional system is that change is difficult. Societies only survive if they evolve slowly over time; we can all flourish better if we have stability and certainty in our laws and policies. Radical change does not work.

Second, why is the public’s rejection of health care reform a sign of a dysfunctional Senate instead of rational updating? I concede that the president and Democrats won based on promises of reform, but these were vague promises that are unenforceable in both directions. Policy is not made at the ballot, and the people may sensibly change their mind based on details. People are rejecting the specific reforms proposed by the president and Congress, not the idea of reform.  This is not necessarily a sign of dysfunction but sophistication.

3. Krugman then laments that there is much to be done — e.g., climate change, financial reform — and that the dysfunctional Senate means some or none of it will be done. Of course, he blames the 40 Republican senators for this. Funny that, since it only takes 60 to get any law passed in the Senate. If there is blame to be given for failure to get out of the way of a radical reordering of our economy in favor of government control, the blame lies with Democrat senators and the leadership in Congress and from the White House. Republicans oppose a government takeover of health insurance and a huge tax increase on the economy to reduce some future risk of rising seas. Whether these are the optimal policies is debatable, but why should the Democrat senators who agree with them lay down their principles in favor of Mr. Krugman’s world view?

4. Krugman points to a recent study showing filibusters are getting more common. So what? It is impossible to know in the abstract whether this is a good or bad thing. What is the optimal number of filibusters? I have no idea, and neither does Krugman. Perhaps legislation is getting more radical over time, or perhaps the stakes are higher in modern bills, or perhaps the size of our government has grown so much that each additional spending bill and extension of government is that much more dangerous. I don’t know how to even evaluate the issues, and I’m sure I’m not alone. Throwing some numbers around doesn’t prove anything interesting.

5. Then Krugman claims that Republicans are worse than Democrats. News flash, Mr. Krugman, all politicians are the same, and neither party has a monopoly on idealism, wisdom, or fair play.When we point the finger at the other political party without recognizing the failings of our own, we are resting on the wobbiliest of arguments.

6. In a nod to his readers with BDS (Bush Derangement Syndrome), which is probably all of them, he dismisses Bush’s ability to get his way with Congress by claiming he was a “buy-now-pay-later president.” The evidence for this is that he “rushed” us to war and never asked us to pay for it, and that the prescription drug benefit was unfunded. One is wrong, the other is true but irrelevant to his point. Whether the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were the right call is debatable, but it isn’t debatable that both were authorized by Congress and paid for by Congress. As for the drug benefit, it may or may not be unfunded, but Krugman is making this comparison to President Obama. The same president Obama that has run up the largest budget deficits in US history and supported massive spending bills that our great grandchildren will be paying for. Again, these may or may not be the right calls, but they are clearly pay-later programs. Health care is the prime example. The program is based entirely on (phantom) future cuts to make it solvent.

7. I could go on and on, but I’ll stop by noting how clearly one-sided this is. Imagine a world in which radical Republicans led by the extreme of their party have 60 votes in the Senate and are trying to ram through prayer in public schools, a ban on all abortions, wars against Venezuela and Iran, and other policies that Mr. Krugman would find deeply wrong and offensive. Would Paul Krugman write the same column lamenting the power of the 40 Democrats standing in their way? No chance. He would be lionizing them and the genius of our Founders. So let’s call a spade a spade: Krugman doesn’t like the results today so he wants to change the system. It is sloppy analysis, the worst kind of partisanship, and definitely in the category of be careful what you wish for.

Next time, I think I’ll watch Project Runway instead.