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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.

This is the bottom line: Barack Obama is a redistributionist radical Keynesian.  He believes in “spreading the wealth around,” as he famously told Joe the Plumber in 2008.  That is, he wants to confiscate the money you earn and give it to someone else.  He thinks that massive government spending is the key to economic recovery.  He thinks every aspect of life should be under the control of the federal government. And that, by the way, is the real agenda behind the 2700-page behemoth that is Obamacare: take decisions about health care — that’s life-and-death decisions — away from individuals and give them to the state.

And what about Mitt’s plan to create jobs?  Paul Krugman says that Romney is “just faking it,” “telling lies,” etc.  Here’s what we know.  Mitt Romney started a business that created wealth not just for himself but also for countless businesses and the individuals who work for them. Bain Capital invested in companies like Staples and made millions; Obama invested in companies like Solyndra and lost billions. Mitt Romney was governor of one of the most liberal states in the country.  He worked effectively with Democrats to balance the budget and left the state that was debt-ridden when he came to office with a tidy surplus of $3 billion. Paul Krugman says that Romney’s five-point plan lacks specifics, but it seems pretty specific to me:

  • Achieve energy independence by 2020 by harnessing the vast resources of North America’s energy reserves.
  • Work to overcome trade barriers to American businesses abroad.
  • Improves skills-based education in America.
  • Reduce the size of government and cut the deficit.
  • Champion small businesses by reducing the morass of business-blighting regulation and simplifying and cutting the tax burden of businesses and individuals.

Paul Krugman says this amounts to “Bushonomics,” with tax cuts for “the rich” and a gutting of environmental protection.  Currently, “the rich” — if by “rich” you mean the top 1 percent of tax filers — pay nearly 40 percent of the income tax receipts while the bottom 47 percent (remember that number: it was supposed to be one of Romney’s gaffes, yet it was the simple truth) pays zero — that’s nada, none, zilch — in income tax.  Is that (to use one of Obama’s favorite words) fair?  The Obama-Biden class-warfare campaign has backfired as more and more people realize that by “rich” they basically mean someone who is employed and not on welfare, the presumption being that if you are not on the government dole you are somehow being unpatriotic. And as for “protecting the environment,”  the EPA long ago ceased being about clean air and clean water: now it is all about promulgating punitive government regulations that have only the most tenuous relationship with helping the environment but most certainly help stymie the economy and blight business. Mitt Romney understands this critical truth: if you want to help the environment, create wealth.  Then you will have the resources and cultivate the technological know-how to foster cleaner energy. What the country needs is cheap, abundant energy, period, full stop.

I suspect that Paul Krugman is going to find his street corner more and more lonely in the weeks to come. Barack Obama’s redistributionist, spendaholic, big-government, blame-America-first policies have finally been revealed for what they are: not the post-partisan, prosperous, green utopia he promised, but an economic and foreign policy disaster. Americans see that, which is why Obama’s campaign is visibly disintegrating by the day and angry, partisan hacks like Paul Krugman are increasingly shouting for themselves alone. No one is listening because we’ve heard it all before and know it’s hooey.

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