October 22, 2003

Russell Baker on Paul Krugman

Russell Baker on Paul Krugman:

The New York Review of Books: The Awful Truth: Krugman's column is remarkable for its single-minded concentration on the President's economic policy. There is very little of the mock ideological posturing about "conservatism" and "liberalism" which most pundits churn out on dull days. He rarely deals with foreign policy except as it affects the economy. He has not said much about the Bush administration's astonishing switch to a unilateral policy of mak-ing preemptive war against nations the President considers dangerous, and there has been virtually none of the conventional pundit's bread-and-butter material: information about what insiders are saying, meditations on the small-town virtues of New Hampshire, startling scoops on what the next usually reliable poll will reveal about public outrage, contentment, or utter indifference.

Most pundits dwell on such stuff because they started out as political reporters or were politicians themselves when they were hired into journalism. They grew to maturity talking this shop talk, and they come to the work with a somewhat limited intellectual reach, as well as a repressive sense of dignity.

Few are equipped to challenge the mathematics and economic theory underlying the Bush budget, and though Krugman may scold them for not doing their homework, doing so would involve prodigious feats of reeducation. Even then it's doubtful that many would be willing to attack a president with charges of deceit, as Krugman has done. A sense of propriety, of dignity, sits heavily on the "commentariat," as Krugman calls it. In the code language of the trade, a colleague like Krugman is said to be "shrill" or "strident," words commonly used to caution a colleague that he is being crude and undignified.

In the higher levels of journalism there is a curious uneasiness about dealing candidly with the quite natural relationship between various money interests and government. All politics is to a great extent about who gets the lion's share of the money at a government's disposal, and a public that realized this might be less insouciant about elections than today's American nonvoter.

Journalism is reluctant, however, to make much of an effort to find out who will benefit if a given candidate wins, and who will lose out. Instead of providing this valuable information, the media tend to explain politics in terms of high-sounding ideological piffle about a "conservatism" and a "liberalism" which have very little pertinence to anything of consequence to the voter. The result is to deaden public interest in politics by diverting the mind from the fact that there is real money at stake.

It seems slightly scandalous that Krugman has persisted in noting that the present administration has been moving the lion's share of the money to an array of corporate interests distinguished by the greed of their CEOs, an indifference toward their workers, and boardroom conviction that it is the welfare state that is ruining the country. Krugman has been strident. He has been shrill. He has lowered the dignity of the commentariat. How refreshing.

Posted by DeLong at October 22, 2003 09:07 AM | TrackBack

Comments

I think Mr. Baker has it right. Occasionally in recent columns I have felt that Krugman has started to sound like Noam Chomsky in his impatience with official-speak and media-speak. (and yes, I know our host would not think that a Good Thing.)

Posted by: Tom Slee on October 22, 2003 09:29 AM

"Journalism is reluctant, however, to make much of an effort to find out who will benefit if a given candidate wins, and who will lose out. Instead of providing this valuable information, the media tend to explain politics in terms of high-sounding ideological piffle about a "conservatism" and a "liberalism" which have very little pertinence to anything of consequence to the voter. The result is to deaden public interest in politics by diverting the mind from the fact that there is real money at stake."

And why would the media do that? Surely there must be some reaon for them to pretend that a national matter that is really about money is about fictitious categories?

Posted by: Dick Thompson on October 22, 2003 09:31 AM

By golly you're right! Us greedy Krugman bashers hate him because he speaks truth to power about how we're destroying the common good. And we call him "shrill" because he doesn't play along with the conventional wisdom that we foist upon the American public.

I mean, take yesterday's column. Krugman used his keen understanding of the complex mathematics of economics to demonstarte conclusively and with a mountain of factual evidense that the recent vicious anti-Semitic remarks of Malaysia's prime minister were the result of George Bush's foreign policy. The ignorant rubes that we conservatives intentionally befuddle with our control of the corporate media might have otherwise thought that the remarks were part of a 30-year long pattern of race baiting by said prime minister, and might have been confused by the fact that George Bush promptly and in no uncertain terms condemned Mr. Mahathir. I sure do hope that the American people never wake up to the fact that Bush's condemnation was just a distraction from The Real Issue (tm).

And besides, who does Bush think he is? Criticising a forward-looking leader with good monetary instincts (Note to self: check to see if there are any interest groups, say, for example, specific Princeton economists who would benefit if Mr. Mahathir were allowed to continue as legitimate player in world affairs) just because he committed the completely forgivable sin of recycling centuries-old blood-stained stereotypes about Jews to accomplish the completely legitimate goal of demogoguing his electorate so that he can continue to hold power for another decade. The nerve of those backwoods Texans! Don't they know that nothing better can be expected of the leader of a predominently Muslim country (Note to self - double check to make sure Turkey and the Kurds aren't on friendly terms with Israel).

Those silly traditional pundits, with their years of experience covering international affairs, with their naive reliance on Lexis/Nexis so that before they blame an event on George Bush they can check to see if said event has been recurring regulalrly for decades, their cowardly refusal to link every world event to the policies of the White House, their repressive sense of dignity! They never would have had the guts to point to the elephant in the living room and say that its the administrations unwaivering support for Israel that leaves third-rate Asian despots no other choice but to stir up race hatred. Mr. Mahathir's late 1990s suggestion that the Asian financial crisis was caused by dirty-Jew George Soros' desire to hurt the good Muslims of Malaysia was just an understandable pre-emptive strike against the easily-forseen Bush election of three years later. You just have to read the writing on the wall!

Posted by: sd on October 22, 2003 09:36 AM

"In the code language of the trade, a colleague like Krugman is said to be 'shrill' or 'strident,' words commonly used to caution a colleague that he is being crude and undignified."

Really? I thought "shrill" and "strident" were code words used by neocons to describe the sound of truth that hurts their ears and sends them off whining that the media is being unfair. I've never heard anyone use these terms except conservative pundits. Certainly Ann Coulter would qualify as shrill, but I've never heard her called that.

Posted by: Kosh on October 22, 2003 09:43 AM

And wasn't it Mr. Woodward in the 70's that made his name by following the money. Why can't Mr. Krugman do the same. Particularly since that is his major intellectual strength.

Posted by: pt martin on October 22, 2003 09:45 AM

What is left to say? Isnt clear writing beautiful?

Posted by: David E on October 22, 2003 09:51 AM

What is left to say? Isnt clear writing beautiful?

Posted by: David E on October 22, 2003 09:52 AM

I think the proper title of this is, "Why oh why can't we have a better press corps?" guest column.

Posted by: Randolph Fritz on October 22, 2003 10:56 AM

David Warsh at Economic Principals

http://www.economicprincipals.com/issues/03.10.19.html

grudgingly acknowledges Krugman's prescience on a variety of economic issues. Samples:

"The Times did make a major contribution to the Enron story, however, and they made it early on. It may even have been the most important scoop of all. The record of it can be found in nine columns spread across 26 pages towards the back of Paul Krugman’s new collection, "The Great Unraveling."

It was in December 2000 that the economist-turned-newspaper columnist first raised the possibility of market manipulation in the California electricity crisis, by generators deliberately withholding power. Two months later he followed up with a column on how out-of-state generators of power (like Enron) had successfully opposed permitting their utility customers to negotiate long-term contracts, thus retaining maximum market power. "

....

"I was among those who initially were skeptical of the diagnosis. But it seems to me now that Krugman turned out to be absolutely right. The industry’s conduct was the real story in California — "looting" behavior every bit as shocking (and, it turns out, as predictable) as that of many bankers in the run-up to the American savings and loan crisis of fifteen years before. The Enron saga is no more than a glorious point-making anecdote in this larger scheme of things. AndKrugman played the key role in alerting the rest of the world to this possibility. "

Posted by: David on October 22, 2003 10:58 AM

Russel Baker writes: "When the New York Times tempted Paul Krugman to try daily journalism, no one, including Paul Krugman, could attempted what was to come. ... All clues pointed to a master of the tediou."

Baker clearly never read "In Praise of Cheap Labor," "Enemies of Globalization," "Why Europe Kan't Compete," and other brilliant essays from Krugman's Slate era.

Posted by: Matt on October 22, 2003 11:01 AM

Russel Baker writes: "When the New York Times tempted Paul Krugman to try daily journalism, no one, including Paul Krugman, could attempted what was to come. ... All clues pointed to a master of the tediou."

Baker clearly never read "In Praise of Cheap Labor," "Enemies of Globalization," "Why Europe Kan't Compete," and other brilliant essays from Krugman's Slate era.

Posted by: Matt on October 22, 2003 11:03 AM

Interesting how most of the left-of-center blogsphere loved Baker's review -- except the Daily Howler. Somerby clearly thinks Baker is wide of the mark.

Posted by: Alan on October 22, 2003 11:25 AM

Keith Burgess-Jackson (whoever he may be) has gone in for Krugman-bashing over at Tech Central Station, as well. Lead story in their newsletter.

http://www.techcentralstation.com/102103A.html

Posted by: Linkmeister on October 22, 2003 11:36 AM

Interesting how most of the left-of-center blogsphere loved Baker's review -- except the Daily Howler. Somerby clearly thinks Baker is wide of the mark.

Well, this is an example of how Somerby can be somewhat tendentious -- Somerby clearly agrees with almost of Baker's review,but because he disagrees with one point he trashes the whole review.

But, as usual, Somerby does have a point. Baker's excuse for the press corps -- that they didn't have the expertise in economics to understand the problems with Bush's budget proposals -- is pretty silly.

Posted by: Morris on October 22, 2003 11:40 AM

The Daily Howler rant was yesterday:
http://www.dailyhowler.com/dh102103.shtml

Posted by: Patrick (G) on October 22, 2003 11:52 AM

sd- did you read the remarks of Dr Mahathir bin Mohamad?? It is difficult, I had to go to an Australian newspaper to find it.

http://smh.com.au/articles/2003/10/20/1066502121884.html

If you read the extended quote:

"39. We are actually very strong. 1.3 billion people cannot be simply wiped out. The Europeans killed 6 million Jews out of 12 million. But today the Jews rule this world by proxy. They get others to fight and die for them.

40. We may not be able to do that. We may not be able to unite all the 1.3 billion Muslims. We may not be able to get all the Muslim Governments to act in concert. But even if we can get a third of the ummah and a third of the Muslim states to act together, we can already do something. Remember that the Prophet did not have many followers when he went to Madinah. But he united the Ansars and the Muhajirins and eventually he became strong enough to defend Islam."

You will see that the statement is a call to action for the Muslims to find a solution to the problem of Palestine. Many Muslims view the US adventure in Iraq as an American attack on Muslim enemies of Israel. The statement of Dr. Mahathir (incorrect and mistaken as it is) has wide credence in the Muslim world. One of the stated reasons that some members of the Bush administration have given for invading Iraq is to end support for terroists in Israel. While Mr. Bush was right to publicly correct Dr. Mahathir on his statement, it does little to dimish the number of people that hold that belief. Just as in the US, we condemn racist remarks, it is true that many people hold such beliefs even though they are incorrect and mistaken.

The US has been too univolved in finding a solution for Palestine. This lack of effort has allowed a dramatic escalation of violence in Palestine and Israel since President Clinton fell just short of a settlement. The escalation in violence is bad for Israel, bad for the Palestinians, bad for US-Muslim relations and bad for winning the war on terror. Even Dr. Mahathir acknowledges that the violence has not solved anything. The Muslims are splintered into many groups, but as Dr Mahathir suggests, were they ever to get together, they would be able to apply formidable pressure for a settlement the Palestine that is much less favorable to Israel and US interests. The US needs to get more involved now to come up with a solution sooner that is more favorable rather than a solution later that will be much less favorable.

No sd, Dr Mahathir remarks were not a result of Bush foreign policy, but a reaction to that policy. With friends like Dr Mahathir, who needs enemies?? While I and most Americans do not agree with his remarks, we need to hear and understand the message that he delivered to the Muslim world in order to respond appropriately.

We hear from Dr Mahathir a call to the Muslim world to modernize in order to protect their own self interest. We hear him say that the Muslim world cannot rely on Europe and America for justice. The US is not seen as an answer to the problems of the Muslim world. Hope that the US will act in behalf of Muslims is considered misplaced.

Thus the PK comment "Thanks to its war in Iraq and its unconditional support for Ariel Sharon, Washington has squandered post-9/11 sympathy and brought relations with the Muslim world to a new low." is spot on. This is not Krugman making it up. This is a reasonable interpretation of Dr Mahathir's remarks. Does it matter? Do 1.3 billion Muslims matter?

Posted by: bakho on October 22, 2003 12:50 PM

For the record I have long admired Krugman's economic writings, and agree with his criticisms of Bush's irresponsible economic policies while I don't agree with most of what he has to say on foreign policy. I don't find Krugman "shrill". I do have a problem with commentators of any ideological persuasion who are so narrow minded that they are convinced anyone who disagrees with them must be a knave or a fool. Apparently Krugman believes that anyone who supported the Iraq War (including I suppose the editors of the New Republic and the Washington Post, Sen. Lieberman, etc) can be so characterised. Those of us who did support the war and don't consider ourselves knaves or fools naturally feel insulted. Of course we also cease paying attention to what he has to say. Who likes being insulted? I would think though that even Krugman's greatest admirers would be hard put to defend his column on Manathir - blaming George Bush for Muslim anti-semitism. It does seem that Bush hatred is making Paul unbalanced.

Posted by: Phil P on October 22, 2003 01:26 PM

Why yes bakho, I have read Mr. Mahathir's full remarks. I especially enjoyed this gem:

"34. It cannot be that there is no other way. 1.3 billion Muslims cannot be defeated by a few million Jews. There must be a way. And we can only find a way if we stop to think, to assess our weaknesses and our strength, to plan, to strategise and then to counter attack.

35. We know he and his early followers were oppressed by the Qhuraish. Did he launch retaliatory strikes? No. He was prepared to make strategic retreats. He sent his early followers to a Christian country and he himself later migrated to Madinah. There he gathered followers, built up his defence capability and ensured the security of his people. At Hudaibiyah he was prepared to accept an unfair treaty, against the wishes of his companions and followers. During the peace that followed he consolidated his strength and eventually he was able to enter Mecca and claim it for Islam. Even then he did not seek revenge. And the peoples of Mecca accepted Islam and many became his most powerful supporters, defending the Muslims against all their enemies."

What does that mean? Well, to his credit, Mr. Mahathir seems to be suggesting that terrorism is an ineffective (not neccessarily morally wrong) tactic in the struggle against Israel. Rather, he suggests a course of "strategic retreat," followed by "consolidating" strength, which proved effective for The Prophet in the lead up to the military conquest of Mecca, which was followed by the peoples of Mecca accepting Islam.

Now, I suppose Mr. Mahathir could be saying that some solid grass roots organizing would enable Muslims to "be able to apply formidable pressure for a settlement the Palestine that is much less favorable to Israel and US interests." But it sounds a lot more like a policy of biding time in the hope of one day seizing control of Israel. I mean, The Prophet didn't seek a solution to the Mecca question "much less favorable to the Qhuraish." He conquered Mecca by force in the first stage of a multi-generational military campaign that created a theocratic empire from Arabia to Spain.


I'm sure many people in the Muslim world believe things very much like this. I'm also sure that many people in Germany in 1937 believed that Jews were responsible for Germany's loss of WWI. But the appropriate response to Nazism wasn't to say "Do 100 million Germans matter?" The appropriate response to Nazism was to fight it at every turn because it was a vicious, genocidal ideology that manipulated common stereotypes about Jews (and other ethnic minorities) to quell the frustrations of a people whose government had long been incompetent.


Here's a fuller list of Mr. Mahathir's adventures in ethnic tolerance (Source: Chicago Sun-Times):

*1969: In his autobiography, "The Malay Dilemma," he wrote: "The Jews ... are not merely hook-nosed, but understand money instinctively."

*1984: He banned the appearance in Malaysia of the New York Philharmonic on the grounds that it was scheduled to play music composed by Ernst Bloch, a Jew.

*1986: He informed the Non-Aligned Summit Conference in Zimbabwe that "the expulsion of Jews from the Holy Land 2,000 years ago and the Nazi oppression of the Jews have taught them nothing. If at all, it has transformed the Jews into the very monsters that they condemn so roundly in their propaganda material. They have been apt pupils of the late Dr. Goebbels."

*1991: He alleged that leaders of Australia's Jewish community were conspiring to overthrow his government, and charged that they had sufficient influence upon their government to command policy.

*1994: His government banned the movie "Schindler's List" because the Oscar-winning film was "propaganda with a purpose for asking for sympathy" for Jews.

*1997: Mahathir told Forbes magazine that his government had "definite information" that George Soros, a Jewish financier, was responsible for the Malaysian economy's collapse. "When a person of Jewish origin does this kind of thing [currency speculation], the effect is the same as when a Muslim carried out something akin to terrorism."******

Posted by: sd on October 22, 2003 01:31 PM

sd- You are correct that Dr. Mahathir has had a long career of making anti-Israel anti-Jewish statements. Certainly he has made those types of statements long before Mr. Bush was president. However, the statements he makes either resonate or lack resonance in the context of world events. The failure of diplomacy in Israel/Palestine and the US invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq creates a climate for these types of remarks to resonate.

For many years, Dr. Mahathir has been spouting that the West and Israel were conducting a war against Muslims. Now we have a policy of supporting military solutions in Palestine, Afghanistan and Iraq that in the minds of many Muslims, support what he has been saying.

I don't think we should "given in". I don't think that the only choices are either to fight it out or give in. I think there are better choices and they require much more effort than giving in to either of the sides that is intent on fighting it out. It is called compromise and negotiated settlement. I do not agree with you that the US should escalate our disagreements to war.

I agree that we were correct to fight the Nazis. However, I do not agree that we need to fight the Muslims. The Muslims goals and beliefs are not at all the same. I am not sure why you make that comparison. It is not at all valid.

Posted by: bakho on October 22, 2003 02:00 PM

bakho wrote:

"I agree that we were correct to fight the Nazis. However, I do not agree that we need to fight the Muslims. The Muslims goals and beliefs are not at all the same. I am not sure why you make that comparison. It is not at all valid."


Well I certainly didn't mean to imply that we should wage war on Islam (comments from General What's-his-name aside) the way we waged war on Nazism. We should wage war on a particular set of pathological ideologies that have taken root in the minds of many Muslims, just as we waged war on a set of pathological ideologies that took root in the minds of many Germans in the years between the world wars. WWII was not about stamping out German nationalism, but about stamping out Nazism. To the extent that the administration has not adequately articulated this, criticize them all you like (though keep in mind how difficult it is to articulate this when our enemies say that they are simply good Muslim - the nazis, after all, named themselves).

Posted by: sd on October 22, 2003 02:10 PM

I suspect that Krugman mischaracterizes Mahathir as only spouting anti-Jewish rhetoric during domestic crises. The record suggests he spouts such rhetoric frequently. However, national and internation crises draw greater spotlight to his remarks.

My thought is that Mahathir would have made the remarks anyway, but they are more important because we now need Malasia as an ally against al Qaeda. That alliance is complicated by US actions in Afghanistan and Iraq that have been extensively criticized in the past by Mahathir and by a change in US policy from (at least the appearance of) honest broker to unconditional support for Sharon and his policies.

Posted by: bakho on October 22, 2003 02:23 PM

From my perspective, the USA did not fight Nazism proper. It was that the Nazi reich declared war on the USA. In the USA nazis can organize themselves in the open, and be elected if they find enough people to vote them. Or accumulate military arsenals...

DSW

Posted by: Antoni Jaume on October 22, 2003 03:00 PM

From my perspective, the USA did not fight Nazism proper. It was that the Nazi reich declared war on the USA. In the USA nazis can organize themselves in the open, and be elected if they find enough people to vote them. Or accumulate military arsenals...

DSW

Posted by: Antoni Jaume on October 22, 2003 03:02 PM

From my perspective, the USA did not fight Nazism proper. It was that the Nazi reich declared war on the USA. In the USA nazis can organize themselves in the open, and be elected if they find enough people to vote them. Or accumulate military arsenals...

DSW

Posted by: Antoni Jaume on October 22, 2003 03:04 PM

From my perspective, the USA did not fight Nazism proper. It was that the Nazi reich declared war on the USA. In the USA nazis can organize themselves in the open, and be elected if they find enough people to vote them. Or accumulate military arsenals...

DSW

Posted by: Antoni Jaume on October 22, 2003 03:06 PM

"I agree that we were correct to fight the Nazis. However, I do not agree that we need to fight the Muslims. The Muslims goals and beliefs are not at all the same."

Then why does Mein Kampf still sell in many thousands of copies in Arab countries?

Posted by: Patrick R. Sullivan on October 22, 2003 03:59 PM

"And why would the media do that? Surely there must be some reaon for them to pretend that a national matter that is really about money is about fictitious categories? "

Posted by: Dick Thompson on October 22, 2003 09:31 AM

Think of the Bush tax plan - screw over the majority of Americans for the sake of 1-2%.
If it were understood that way, it probably wouldn't have happened. Particularly since President Gore wouldn't propose it (Bush, in this world, would have lost in a landslide).

Think of how many working-class Americans think that Bush is on their side. Because he's not a 'Liberal'.

Posted by: Barry on October 22, 2003 04:23 PM

"The Muslims goals and beliefs are not at all the same."

Then why does Mein Kampf still sell in many thousands of copies in Arab countries?"

Yeah, and why was Mein Kampf "a best seller in the United States when it was published in 1939"?

http://slate.msn.com/id/1008421/


Posted by: hmmm on October 22, 2003 04:45 PM

Patrick Sullivan lobs a softball: "Then why does Mein Kampf still sell in many thousands of copies in Arab countries?"

Here's my guess: because there are a lot of Arabs.

Just like there are a lot of people in the US (okay, a lot fewer, but with more money). Mein Kampf still sells many thousand copies per year in the US - primarily, though not exclusively, to people interested in a historical document.

Posted by: Ben Vollmayr-Lee on October 22, 2003 04:46 PM

Patrick Sullivan lobs a softball: "Then why does Mein Kampf still sell in many thousands of copies in Arab countries?"

Here's my guess: because there are a lot of Arabs.

Just like there are a lot of people in the US (okay, a lot fewer, but with more money). Mein Kampf still sells many thousand copies per year in the US - primarily, though not exclusively, to people interested in a historical document.

Posted by: Ben Vollmayr-Lee on October 22, 2003 04:51 PM

Dear Phil P:

The only thing worse than someone who thinks that anyone who disagrees with them must be a knave or a fool is someone who assumes that no one who disagrees with them is a knave or a fool.

Posted by: The Fool on October 22, 2003 05:20 PM

"We should wage war on a particular set of pathological ideologies that have taken root in the minds of many Muslims, just as we waged war on a set of pathological ideologies that took root in the minds of many Germans in the years between the world wars."

SD

And what are you, if not a pathological ideologue and a racist to boot?

Posted by: jack on October 22, 2003 06:06 PM

Jack wrote:

"We should wage war on a particular set of pathological ideologies that have taken root in the minds of many Muslims, just as we waged war on a set of pathological ideologies that took root in the minds of many Germans in the years between the world wars."

SD

And what are you, if not a pathological ideologue and a racist to boot?"


Any evidense for that Jack? At all?

Posted by: sd on October 22, 2003 07:37 PM
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