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Why People Now Ignore Paul Krugman

October 19th, 2012 - 8:28 am

I wonder if anyone outside the febrile circle of committed New York Times “progressives” still takes Paul Krugman seriously? An eminent writer on economics for a rival paper tells me that he and his colleagues long ago decided to ignore Krugman. They just stopped responding to his hectoring exercises in economic fantasy, or even mentioning his name, because to respond, no matter how critically, accorded Krugman a legitimacy, a seriousness,  he didn’t deserve.

There is something to that. To respond to Paul Krugman is like staring at the poor chaps who stand on street corners shouting obscenities at imaginary enemies.  It just isn’t polite, and mothers are right to shade their children’s eyes and hurry them by such pathetic scenes of mental anguish. “What’s wrong with that man, Mommy?” “Hush, children, it’s impolite to point and stare. Let’s get along home.”

I think that’s basically the right response to Paul Krugman: a pitying silence as one averts one’s eyes and hurries on.

Still, although he is like a madman shouting on the street corner, Paul Krugman’s position at our former paper of record endows him with a very large megaphone. This means that his expostulations, though sadly risible, are almost unavoidable if one is out and about in the commentariat’s precinct of cyberspace.  Just this morning, for example, the indispensable site RealClearPolitics (which, unlike Candy Crowley, takes its responsibility to be evenhanded seriously)  links to a column by Paul Krugman called “Snow Job on Jobs.” Here’s the burden of his piece: Mitt Romney talks  about creating jobs, but he doesn’t have a creditable plan to make that happen. “He’s just faking it.” In fact, his campaign is “telling lies” about the relevant numbers. He then treats readers to an ad hominem digression about Mitt Romney’s claim to have started a “small business.” Yes, Krugman allows, Bain Capital started with only a few employees, but — Gotcha! — it was backed by investor capital to the tune of $37 million. (“So?” you say: “So what? It was still a small business.” Yes but that is only in real life, not in the world according to Krugman.) No, Romney’s plan for recovery, according to Paul Krugman, contains 5 points “but no specifics.” Nevertheless, it represents a return “to Bushonomics: tax cuts for the wealthy plus weaker environmental protection.”

Barack Obama, on the other hand, has been a sort of economic miracle worker. Krugman concedes that unemployment remains high (thanks for that, Paul!) but also contends that (listen closely now) “you can defend President Obama’s jobs record — recovery from a severe financial crisis is always difficult, and especially so when the opposition party does its best to block every policy initiative you propose. And things have definitely improved over the past year.”

Is there any single phrase in that passage that is true?  Obama’s recovery, if you can call it a recovery, is about the weakest on record (“the worst that America has ever had”: CBS). Barack Obama came to power controlling both houses of Congress: he asked for, and got, whatever he wanted. And things have not improved over the last years.  Just a few data points:

  • The federal debt recently passed the mind-boggling number of $16 trillion (it seemed like poetic justice that it should have happened as the Democrats were convening in Charlotte to nominate Obama for another four-year-term of out-of-control spending).
  • Obama is still running more than a trillion dollar annual deficit, even though he promised to cut that in half by the end of his first term.
  • Obama promised that he would have unemployment down to well under 6 percent by now if Congress only gave him the nearly $800 billion “stimulus” package. They gave him the dough, yet official unemployment is still nearly 8 percent and is in reality much higher. (I don’t know of anyone, apart from Paul Krugman, who believes September’s announcement that unemployment had fallen to 7.8 percent.)
  • Gas prices have soared from $1.85 to about $4.00 a gallon on Obama’s watch, though, to be fair , skyrocketing energy prices were something Obama and his secretary of energy actually aimed to produce.
  • Economic growth, far from improving, has remained at an anemic 1.3 percent.
  • Government expenditure on welfare now tops $1 trillion per annum.  Amazing.

I could (indeed, I several times have) gone on with the litany of failure and broken promises that is Barack Obama’s record.  But at this stage the recitation is bootless: the public now knows — and more importantly, it now feels in its bones — that Obama’s tenure has been an abject failure.  This is the first time in his entire life that Obama has had to run on his record: it is shaping up to be a car wreck of historical proportions. He came to office, remember, promising to “fundamentally transform the United States of America” (it’s worth going back to look at that clip). When Obama assumed office, the Untied States was the richest, mightiest, freest, most secure polity in history. If you set about “fundamentally transforming” the United States, could any of those attributes survive? America is poorer, much poorer, now than when Obama took office. We have seen an American ambassador and three members of his staff murdered by terrorists in Libya. The world is reeling not only from economic turmoil but also from a lack of American leadership.

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