July, 23rd 2010

Paul Krugman gets a bunch of stuff wrong... again

– Liz Mair

Paul Krugman's column is up today, and I have some problems with it. I know, you're surprised.

I'm not a hater of the mainstream media (I go on MSNBC and CNN from time to time, I read at least portions of the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal daily, I read stuff from ABC and Politico in particular usually throughout the day, in addition to publications like the LA Times, which I read for work purposes).

But it annoys me when Nobel prize winners who write for major publications get really basic stuff wrong, especially when it pertains to their area of expertise.

So here are a few basic critiques of what Krugman writes today:

For a couple of years, it was the love that dared not speak his name. In 2008, Republican candidates hardly ever mentioned the president still sitting in the White House. After the election, the G.O.P. did its best to shout down all talk about how we got into the mess we're in, insisting that we needed to look forward, not back. And many in the news media played along, acting as if it was somehow uncouth for Democrats even to mention the Bush era and its legacy.

The truth, however, is that the only problem Republicans ever had with George W. Bush was his low approval rating. They always loved his policies and his governing style - and they want them back.

OK, I know where Krugman's going with this. If you watched last week's Sunday shows, you probably do, too. We have a situation in the GOP where our esteemed "leaders" have fallen back into their 2006-esque trap of playing defense for Bush when a) a very large chunk of the grassroots of the party reached their limit with the guy over four years ago now and b) certainly few Republicans now hold Bush (or key policies and approaches pursued while in office) in any real esteem, although many Republicans do feel that as big a disaster as Bush was, and as stupid as many of those policies and approaches were, he was marginally better than Obama.

You see where I'm going with this now, don't you? Yes. See, Krugman, in his rush to ding our esteemed leadership (an objective I can't say I wholly disagree with, even if I take that view for different reasons than does Krugman), just ignored the fact that "Republicans" is a broader swath of individuals than a handful of select high-ranking men who work in the Capitol complex, and went ahead and used the term anyway to indicate that a) all elected Republicans were cool with Bush, and actually, want a return to the business he did and the way he did it and b) worse, all Republicans, as in all of us in the party who haven't been elected to anything and who hold the majority of those who have, on both sides of the aisle, in a fair bit of contempt, also want a return to the business Bush did, and the way he did it.

The bullshit meter is buzzing. [intro]

At the risk of being a pedant, it's worth remembering, since Krugman is talking primarily here about economic issues, that big spending, our big fat deficit, and our even bigger and fatter national debt, is a big 'un.

And guess what? Bush was a huge proponent of the big spending that contributed in substantial measure to the second and third problems mentioned in this list-- big spending that has been carried on under-- surprise-- Barack Obama, who just so happens to be a Democrat (!), and who just so happens to have a Democratic (!) Congress to approve his big spending requests.

Guess what else? Contrary to what Krugman's statement would seem to imply, actually, there are a lot of Republicans who have and had, way back in 2006 or even earlier, a phenomenal problem with Bush's big spending. Names and monikers associated with this sentiment include Sen. Tom Coburn, Sen. Jim DeMint, Sen. John McCain, Rep. Jeff Flake, Rep. Ron Paul, the Club for Growth, pretty much every libertarian Republican I know at the grassroots level, and so on. I'm pretty sure Krugman has heard of at least some of these people, so I'm pretty sure that when Krugman writes that Republicans' only problem with Bush was his shitty approval rating and that actually, we quite liked his policies, he knows that's false.

Let's turn to the issue of taxes. Quite unlike what is being advocated by Europe right now (slashing spending and hiking taxes, which actually would be the opposite of Bushite/Obamite fiscal policy), both Bush was and Obama has, to date, been perfectly happy to keep passing tax cuts, despite warnings from liberals (and Krugman is one) that said tax cuts take money out of the federal coffers (which are effectively empty anyway-- a consequence of all that big spending they both love so much) and aggravate the deficit. Yes, Bush's tax cuts benefited poor people, middle class people, and--gasp (!)-- rich people, whereas Obama's pretty much benefit poor and middle class people (depending on how that's defined). Yes, Obama's Treasury Department is saying that they're going to allow Bush tax cuts for the "wealthiest" to expire on schedule. But that's not the entirety of the Bush tax cuts, and let's not forget that there's a reason why Democrats are gearing up to try to extend at least some of them.  There is-- shock, horror-- wide agreement that is bipartisan, actually, that some (if not all) of Bush's tax cuts were good, and I doubt it's because every Democrat in this camp has failed to hear the voice of the public, when it can somehow be heard with ease in Krugman's office.

Taxes, as you might expect from what I've said above, are another area where Krugman runs into trouble, then:

After all, Mr. Bush's two signature initiatives were tax cuts and the invasion of Iraq; both, in the eyes of the public, were abject failures.

A reference to some sort of poll, or something other than Krugman's own observations, here, would be helpful for a start-- not least because this poll taken by Gallup just ahead of tax day this year to me suggests that actually, the public either doesn't think the Bush tax cuts went far enough for them personally, or thinks that the current tax regime-- which of course encompasses the Bush tax cuts-- is just about right:

(I'll pass on debating Krugman on Iraq; I've always had mixed views on this one, and I don't think it's particularly disputable that Bush's handling of Iraq, setting aside the actual decision to invade, is widely viewed as nothing short of incompetent).

Moving on, also in the column, Krugman says this:

In recent weeks, G.O.P. leaders have come out for a complete return to the Bush agenda, including tax breaks for the rich and financial deregulation.

Now, you really would expect a Nobel prize winning economist to know when legislation that Democrats will tell you was the biggest piece of financial deregulation passed in the last 75 years was, you know, passed and signed into law, wouldn't you? And you'd expect him to know which President signed it into law, right?

Well, I would, and I do. But Krugman doesn't know, apparently.

Here's the deal: Gramm-Leach-Bliley, aka, the Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999, aka, the repeal of Glass-Steagall (you know, the bit of financial services regulation that Katrina Vanden Heuvel likes to talk about breathlessly on, say, the Ed Schultz show) was-- you guessed it-- passed and signed into law in 1999.

Guess who was President in 1999? Oh yeah. That'd be Bill Clinton, the same guy who, not coincidentally, was cited defending that bill and saying it didn't lead to the meltdown in 2008 on the pages of the Wall Street Journal that same year.

Krugman is a big fan of Clinton's wife, so separate to him being, you know, an economist who should pay attention to these things, you'd kind of expect he might peripherally have been aware of at least some of this.

Ultimately, Krugman's right in saying that Republicans favor less financial regulation, generally, than Democrats. He's also right in interpreting that Republicans are happier to cut taxes for the wealthy, as well as the poor, than Democrats.

But by tying his arguments to this great talking point that "Republicans want a return to Bush," he's written a sub-par column that further undercuts his credibility as an economist opining on political matters, so far as I am concerned. The proof of that is that this post could have been about how Krugman is right in asserting that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell looks doltish, at best, when he makes comments that suggest that Bush was actually a pretty decent keeper of America's fiscal house, such as this one:

"The last year of the Bush administration... the deficit as a percentage of gross domestic product was 3.2 percent, well within the range of what most economists think is manageable."

But ultimately, that comes as a side note in what I've written here, because much of the rest of the column-- and the stuff up top, which you read first, is so... silly.



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