November 20, 2003

Defending Paul Krugman

The letter as edited has a slightly different edge to it than the letter I wrote, but it's good:

Economist letters to the editor: SIR -- So Paul Krugman is a partisan hack (Face value, November 15th)? Did you not have the time to find out what Mr Krugman has also written about prominent Democrats like Robert Kuttner, Lester Thurow or Robert Reich? Mr Kuttner, proprietor of the American Prospect, believes that Mr Krugman is a right-wing mole: "far more charitable to very conservative fellow economists [like] Milton Friedman, Robert Lucas, Martin Feldstein...than to fellow liberals...whom he dismisses as pseudo-economists and mere 'policy entrepreneurs'."

Mr Krugman wages, and always has waged, intellectual thermonuclear war against all whom he regards as denizens of the pit and carriers of error. He's usually right (80% of the time?); he's sometimes wrong. The interesting question--which you did not pose--is what has the Bush administration done over the past three years to draw such a concentration of Mr Krugman's intellectual fire? It is odd that you name only one critic,lyinginponds.com, but mention unnamed "people" and "critics" who "cannot all be easily dismissed"?, "game theorists" who were "not convince[d]", "fellow economists, jealous". Perhaps this is because laudably you do not want to give public prominence to unbalanced loons.

J. Bradford DeLong

Berkeley, California


Compare and contrast with what I wrote:

Paul Krugman a partisan hack ("One-Handed Economist", November 13, 2003)? Puh-leaze. Do your reporters not have time to find out what Paul Krugman has written about prominent Democrats like Robert Kuttner? Lester Thurow? Robert Reich? _American Prospect_ proprietor Robert Kuttner, at least, believes that Krugman is a right-wing mole: "far more charitable to very conservative fellow economists [like] Milton Friedman, Robert Lucas, Martin Feldstein... than to fellow liberals... whom he dismisses as pseudo-economists and mere 'policy entrepreneurs.'"

Paul Krugman wages and always has waged Intellectual Thermonuclear War against all he regards as denizens of the pit and carriers of error. He's usually right (80% of the time?). He's sometimes wrong (20% of the time?). The interesting question--the question your reporter should have asked him or herself but did not--is "What has the Bush administration done over the past three years to draw such a concentration of Paul Krugman's intellectual fire?"

I also found it odd that your reporter names only one critic in the text of the article: lyinginponds.com website proprietor Ken Waight (who seems not to know that in the past Krugman's harsh criticisms have been directed against Democrats as well as Republicans). Besides Mr. Waight, Krugman's critics are unnamed "people", "critics" who "cannot all be easily dismissed", "game theorists" who were "not convince[d]", "fellow economists, jealous." Perhaps this is because your reporter laudably does not want to give more public prominence to unbalanced loons like D___ S___ and A___ L___. But the _Economist_ is too good a magazine to let itself become an enabler for an anonymous denunciation game.

Posted by DeLong at November 20, 2003 11:00 AM | TrackBack

Comments

The right-wing Krugman-conniptions are of some interest because they provide a fairly complete catalogue of ad hominem arguments used against those seen by the right as political opponents. I think it's time to draw up a canonical list-- so we can reply "Oh, that's just a K5."

Posted by: Matt on November 20, 2003 11:26 AM

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Logical fallacies

Now we just need to number them.

Posted by: Amit Dubey on November 20, 2003 11:37 AM

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I think the letter after yours is even more fun:

"SIR – You say that Mr Krugman is still in the running for a Nobel prize despite his political engagement. Nobel prizes are given to economists for their contribution to economics. Has Mr Krugman made a more important contribution than his peers in his field of research? Jagdish Bhagwati or Avinash Dixit is perhaps better qualified for the award than Mr Krugman. One can hope that the Nobel prize committee will continue to deal only with economic science and not anything else."

Oh my, a whole two people who are "perhaps better qualified" for the award. So I suppose the author of this letter wouldn't be upset if Krugman won the award three years from now.

Posted by: Geoffrey Green on November 20, 2003 11:43 AM

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Whooops, link didn't seem to work...

http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/

Posted by: Amit Dubey on November 20, 2003 11:53 AM

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I notice a recurring pattern of accusations against Krugman, that various unnamed people think badly of him. However, these various unnamed people tend to remain unnamed.

I'm puzzled at how such a 'partisan hack' who is allegedly losing respect from those in his field, can still manage to terrorize these critics into anonymity. Especially in economics, not known as a left-wing-friendly place.

Posted by: Barry on November 20, 2003 12:01 PM

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Interesting. The rightwing is suggesting that mnay generals don't like Wesley Clark. Only one general has been named and his reasons for not like Gen. Clark? No has given none. But then the rightwing has been doing this to Dr. Krugman for much longer. Why? Perhaps they cannot rebut his analysis of the current economic situation. But hey - Bush's policies can't be bad so any critic must be lying. Even if they can't specify the actual lie or even rebut the analysis. Truly interesting.

Posted by: Hal McClure on November 20, 2003 12:18 PM

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The Economist here was probably the same journalist who, to my great surprise, I read sometimes ago praise itsapundit as a thoughful website... Mr. Economist, clean-up time, please! :-)

Posted by: Jean-Philippe Stijns on November 20, 2003 12:19 PM

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The Economist here was probably the same journalist who, to my great surprise, I read sometimes ago praise itsapundit as a thoughful website... Mr. Economist, clean-up time, please! :-)

Posted by: Jean-Philippe Stijns on November 20, 2003 12:24 PM

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Looking at lyinginponds's methodology, it's pretty much guaranteed to portray left-leaning commentators as more partisan. It tracks mention of political figures. Because there are currently prominent republican figures, but not democratic ones, democratic commentators are going to be more likely to mention a politician by name. Democrats are a lot more likely to rail against Bush than Republicans will against Tom Daschle. The opposite would have been true 4 years ago when the president was a democrat.

msw

Posted by: msw on November 20, 2003 12:27 PM

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Excellent letter! (I think the editor did a good job too, its hard to kill ones darlings, and parenthesis are problematic, its something that only almost fits in the text...)

Posted by: Mats on November 20, 2003 12:29 PM

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>>Oh my, a whole two people who are "perhaps better qualified" for the award.<<

My bet is that it will be a joint prize next year: Bhagwati, Dixit, Krugman.

(Of course, I thought it reasonably likely that that would be the case this year.)

Posted by: Brad DeLong on November 20, 2003 12:36 PM

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Great letter! And the editing isn't terrible either. I'm glad you wrote, and I'm glad they printed it.

Posted by: Erika on November 20, 2003 12:53 PM

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The defense of Paul Krugman reminds me of Mike Tyson's of himself, at his rape trial: "That's just the kind of guy I am."

Also, it seems a masterpiece of bad timing what with the European cover for The Great Unravelling now circulating on the internet.

Posted by: Patrick R. Sullivan on November 20, 2003 12:58 PM

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who is patrick r.sullivan ?

Posted by: Hans Suter on November 20, 2003 01:02 PM

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Luskin is obviously a stalker, but could easily prove in court that he's not a loon.

Loons are a wrongly-maligned bird. They have this way of disappearing suddenly underwater and then reappearing again minutes later hundreds of feet away in any direction. They are also the national bird of our Canadian friends, who on the aggregate are very sensible people even though they have had a large assortment of bizarre third and fourth political parties over the years.

Posted by: Zizka on November 20, 2003 01:38 PM

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Hey, I just want to point out that I'm also a lot smarter than the President and his staff because many people dislike me. Sorry, can't tell you who they are, but they really think I'm an arrogant smart-ass.


Posted by: bryan on November 20, 2003 01:46 PM

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The aptly-named lyinginponds.com (the only better name would be lyingpondscum.com) has specialized in mathematics-with-an-agenda, which should be repulsive to any person with any degree or even the trace of a conscience.

Several years ago, I went through and showed the website proprietor in detail how his methodology (http://www.lyinginponds.com/methodology.html)fails. If one simplifies it, it becomes:

% (positive less negative references to Democrats - negative less positive references to Republicans), where the percentage is taken relative to all references, excluding pronominal references.

So, for example, "Bush is a liar. He is a double-dipped liar; he is a pluperfect liar" would count only as one negative because of the pronouns.

The paragraph "Bush is serving as president. Bush is a man. Bush is married to a woman who ran a stopsign as a teenager. Bush is a liar. He is a double-dipped liar; he is a pluperfect liar" would count as 25% negative: one negative reference out of four non-pronominal references. Of course, if one wanted to regard running a stopsign (and, by the bye, killing your boyfriend) as a negative, that would up it to 50% negative.


On the other hand, "Gore once told a fib, but Bush is an evil, stinking, pathological liar" would count as neutral, because there is one mild negative reference to a Democrat and one extremely negative reference to a Republican.

Finally, it has no evaluation of the truth or falsity of a charge. Thus, "Richard Nixon committed crimes at Watergate, just as Bill Clinton personally killed Vince Foster" would be counted as neutral.

When a methodology is this radically flawed, when its defects are pointed out to the originator and he refuses to even acknowledge the weaknesses, one apply the old maxim that "Figures never lie, but liars certainly figure."

Posted by: Charles on November 20, 2003 01:46 PM

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Dear Brad

You clearly didn't expect your view of A___L____ and D_____S_____ to be printed. For one thing you clearly refered to A_____S_____ and D______L_____ deleting a few letters and switching first and last names clearly isn't enough to hide their idenity. I mean without any letters at all, loons who attack Krugman would be plenty.

Also why didn't you try to mention M_____K_____ ?
Finally see my effort on my blog.

Posted by: Robert on November 20, 2003 01:54 PM

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Firstly, let's be accurate. The Economist never called Paul Krugman a "partisan hack", or a "hack" of any kind. It called him...

"the finest economist to become a media superstar —- at least since Milton Friedman or, earlier, John Maynard Keynes"

So let's not resort to rhetorical trickery such as damning someone for making an argument they didn't make -- that sort of disingenuousness is for the bad guys.

Secondly, as to "who seems not to know that in the past Krugman's harsh criticisms have been directed against Democrats..."

... well, the article clearly referred to the change in Krugman, just as he's openly referred to it himself. Saying that "in the past" he wasn't so partisan is a pretty weak way to deny the situation today.

Anyone who knows Krugman only through his Times column, which would be most of his readers, would be pretty much unaware that *in the past* he criticized Democrats and liberals, because he does not do so any more.

Hey, has he criticized in the Times many (or any) liberals or Democrats that we can name in the last three years? The closest I can think of is when he suggested Larry Summers could be a Jenny Craig spokesman.

He's even *admits* on his web site that he doesn't criticize Democrats any more and that he *is* partisan in this way, and explains why.

Frankly I don't see why his friends and admirers feel a need to defend him against charges of partisanship by saying "look he attacks Democrats too!" when he admits that he is partisan and doesn't attack Democrats any more. If he's happy enough about it why aren't they?

Now, "in the past" he was not extremely partisan -- and probably would have ridiculed a bashing-motivated Thurow- , Reich- or Kuttner-like howler such as: "The revenue lost to the Bush tax cuts would have been more than enough to 'top up' Social Security and Medicare, allowing them to operate without benefit cuts for the next 75 years." But now he's the one saying it. C'mon.

And today he's also talking about right wing "conspiracy ... albeit out in the open"; comparing Robspierre, the Jacobins and that nasty German political party of the 1930s to ... Grover Norquist and the folks at Heritage; lamenting that "we're probably not the country of Richard Nixon any more ... we're much more polarized now" -- the social cohesion of Kent State, Weatherman bombings, urban riots and Spiro Agnew being a casualty to today's Republican tax policy; and on and on.

That quote from Kuttner about PK respecting conservative economists more than liberal activists was from back in 1996. Yes, I do have a hard time imagining the PK of back *then* comparing Grover Norquist to Robespierre.

But let's be real. The Economist didn't call PK a "hack" of any sort, so one can't honestly object to that. It did say he's become increasingly, stridently partisan, and he has -- he admits it -- so one can't honestly object to that either.

The only thing one might object to in the article is the notion that PK's ever-increasing partisanship is affecting his judgment.

As to that, well, we've got 2001 tax cuts suddenly creating from scratch massive entitlement funding shortfalls recognized decades earlier, conspiracies operating out in the open, the folks at Heritage compared to Jacobins and to that nasty German political party of the 1930s, regret over the loss of the social cohesion of the Nixon years ... you decide.

Posted by: Jim Glass on November 20, 2003 02:53 PM

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Well:"Have we learned our lesson? Early indications are not promising. President Bush now says that "our grid needs to be modernized . . . and I've said so all along." But two years ago Tom DeLay blocked a modest Democratic plan for loan guarantees for system upgrades, calling it "pure demagoguery." And press reports say that despite the blackout, the administration will bow to pressure from Senate Republicans and drop the only part of its energy plan that had any relevance to the blackout, a FERC proposal for expanded oversight of the transmission system.(PK:The road to ruin,08.19.2003,NYT) + "...Regarding California's energy crisis, for example, he berated the Bush administration and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for not imposing price caps sooner-but found no room to mention Bill Clinton, who presided over a similarly inactive FERC for for the first part of the crisis, nor to attack California's then Democratic governor Gray Davis for his disastrous refusal to allow consumer prices to rise....(The Economist (X) 11.15.2003" = ?

Posted by: Bernadette on November 20, 2003 03:06 PM

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Well:"Have we learned our lesson? Early indications are not promising. President Bush now says that "our grid needs to be modernized . . . and I've said so all along." But two years ago Tom DeLay blocked a modest Democratic plan for loan guarantees for system upgrades, calling it "pure demagoguery." And press reports say that despite the blackout, the administration will bow to pressure from Senate Republicans and drop the only part of its energy plan that had any relevance to the blackout, a FERC proposal for expanded oversight of the transmission system.(PK:The road to ruin,08.19.2003,NYT) + "...Regarding California's energy crisis, for example, he berated the Bush administration and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for not imposing price caps sooner-but found no room to mention Bill Clinton, who presided over a similarly inactive FERC for for the first part of the crisis, nor to attack California's then Democratic governor Gray Davis for his disastrous refusal to allow consumer prices to rise....(The Economist (X) 11.15.2003" = ?

Posted by: Bernadette on November 20, 2003 03:20 PM

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Like Charles, above, I looked at Lyinginponds' methodology; like him, I found it logically defective.
Knowing how much tedious (and, I assume, unpaid) work it is to go through the press and score articles as they do, the first thought that came to mind was "How can we lose when we're so sincere?"
To my mind, his summary can be compressed even further: it is impossible to evaluate a claim, such as "Bush's tax cuts are fiscally irresponsible," without dealing with the substance of the arguement. Tabulating agreement of disagreement with others (the premise "If two people always agree, one is doing the thinking") is not good enough.
As I said, I'd assumed lp was misguided but sincere. Charles raises the possibility that they are misguided and insincere. I wish I was sure he is wrong.

Posted by: Jonathan Goldberg on November 20, 2003 03:20 PM

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Well:"Have we learned our lesson? Early indications are not promising. President Bush now says that "our grid needs to be modernized . . . and I've said so all along." But two years ago Tom DeLay blocked a modest Democratic plan for loan guarantees for system upgrades, calling it "pure demagoguery." And press reports say that despite the blackout, the administration will bow to pressure from Senate Republicans and drop the only part of its energy plan that had any relevance to the blackout, a FERC proposal for expanded oversight of the transmission system.(PK:The road to ruin,08.19.2003,NYT) + "...Regarding California's energy crisis, for example, he berated the Bush administration and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for not imposing price caps sooner-but found no room to mention Bill Clinton, who presided over a similarly inactive FERC for for the first part of the crisis, nor to attack California's then Democratic governor Gray Davis for his disastrous refusal to allow consumer prices to rise....(The Economist (X) 11.15.2003" = ? (Hmmmmm)

Posted by: Bernadette on November 20, 2003 03:41 PM

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Brad,

Why do you think it is likely to be those three guys next year? Wasn't it supposed to be Krugman and one of them this year?

Posted by: Brian on November 20, 2003 03:52 PM

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Scratch that earlier post. Let me say that again:

Brad,

Why do you think it is likely to be those three guys next year? How likely is it that Krugman, if he does not get it next year, will get it in the next, say, five years?

Posted by: Brian on November 20, 2003 03:54 PM

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Jim Glass writes, "The only thing one might object to in the article is the notion that PK's ever-increasing partisanship is affecting his judgment."

I think his increasing partisanship is even worse than that. I think it adversely affects his honesty:

1) Lou Dobbs on Moneyline, questioning Paul Krugman:

"DOBBS: Well, the basic issue here is that the Social Security trust fund, most people think of it as a trust fund. It isn't, is it?

KRUGMAN: It's -- it's a little complicated."

http://www.pkarchive.org/economy/ML072501.html

Paul Krugman's partisan support for (Democrat-initiated) Social Security prevented him from answering honestly: "That's right, Lou, it's not a trust fund."

2) After the Northeast blackout this year, he blamed the blackout on "faith-based deregulation." His partisan opposition to G.W. Bush led him to use that phrase, even though he KNEW that the portion of the grid that he held to be the problem--distribution--has *not* been deregulated.

Posted by: Mark Bahner on November 20, 2003 04:28 PM

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Mark Bahner - In the Dobbs interview that you cite, Dobbs interrupts PK before he can explain what he means. In his very next answer, the one you clip from your posting, PK explains that the "trust fund" is really a set of intergovernmental IOUs.

Mark, I'm wondering if your own partisanship is affecting your honesty.

Posted by: joe on November 20, 2003 05:50 PM

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Brad: Excellent letter. I must admit that, though I've been a loyal, avid reader of The Economist for 15 years now, over the past 3 years I've become more and more disappointed with some of its opinions. On policies, The Economist almost always agrees with Democrats (and Paul Krugman, for that matter) rather than with George Bush. And yet it frequently and consistently gives him the benefit of the doubt. Even in the election year of 2000, I suspect that if one went down a list of policies one would find that The Economist agreed with Gore much more often than Bush; yet they endorsed Bush. I increasingly wonder why The Economist feels and demonstrates such loyalty to Republicans in the US, in the face of their own acknowledged disagreement with their policies.

Posted by: Kash on November 20, 2003 05:53 PM

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So what's the story on the Economist? I'm a 20+ year subscriber, and I don't recall any previous prolonged intervals of comparable mediocrity. In the past few years their best features have been the obituaries. The surveys are not the equal of those of the 80s and 90s, and their infatuation with Bush is astounding. They supported him for the presidency with very weak arguments, and they've not shown any improvement since.

It's true that on recent occasion there've been some very critical articles, but those are often countered by illogical editorial positions.

I'm told the Economist has a relatively junior staff of writers and a very senior group of editors. Have their editors been invaded by WSJ zombies?

Posted by: John Faughnan on November 20, 2003 06:15 PM

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I started reading the Economist back in the late 1970s--when, as I recall, it was actually printed on newsprint, airmailled from England, and only available at a handful of newstands in NYC and a few other cities. It was unpredictable, witty, and got better, in my opinion, through at least the 1980s. It's heyday, I think was when it was edited by the fellow who later went off to the Bank of England and was dismissed for libidinous behavior. Ever since then, I think, it's gotten more and more generic and boring.

As for the Nobel, seems like they've given it out for some pretty unremarkable work over the years. Does Krugman, whatever you think of his politics, really belong in the same professional company as, say, Samuelson? Not in my book.

Posted by: Maiden Lane on November 20, 2003 06:52 PM

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Jonathan Goldberg says, "As I said, I'd assumed lp [lyinginponds] was misguided but sincere. Charles raises the possibility that they are misguided and insincere. I wish I was sure he is wrong."

I had several go-rounds with this fellow, and he made it clear to me that he had no intention of noting or correcting the weaknesses of his methodology. At present, he has one line on that topic, up from zero several years ago.

All of us are capable of error or ignorance. The honest among us admit what we don't know, and where we may be wrong, and do so it publicly. The dishonest among us won't admit to being wrong and won't even acknowledge ignorance. It's not a matter of what I think about Ken Waight. He's shown his colors.

(I'm waiting with interest to see how Mark Bahner self-classifies himself with regard to the Lou Dobbs/Paul Krugman exchange that joe has noted.)

Posted by: Charles on November 20, 2003 07:07 PM

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Jim Glass: "And today he's also ...comparing Robespierre, the Jacobins and that nasty German political party of the 1930s to ... Grover Norquist and the folks at Heritage..."

Well. While I don't propose to defend Krugman's other hyperbole, anyone who reads Norquist's eager public comments is forced to conclude that he's an extremely filthy-tempered fanatic. We are, lest we forget, talking about someone who says he "wants to drown government in the bathtub", happily talks in a Washington Post Op-Ed about how the Founders "gerrymandered the Senate in favor of the Republican Party" (which gives you some idea of his level of attachment to democracy), and reportedly used to drive around Washington with Ralph Reed as a college student jeering at the monuments and singing old Anarchist songs. Who the hell knows how far a Social Darwinist with that level of enthusiasm is willing to go? (Aside from the fact that we already know that he's willing to rig elections in order to win, and to talk about his willngness to do so proudly and publicly.) And Norquist, of course, is probably the current GOP's single most important strategist.

Are the current governing crew, as a whole, Nazis? No -- but I think they bear a very strong resemblance to the oligarchs currently in the process of ruining post-Communist Russia, who are not particularly interested in either democracy or an honest free market. At a minimum, they unquestionably resemble the hoods who deliberately robbed the country blind during the Grant and Harding Administrations, which is quite rotten enough.

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw on November 20, 2003 07:12 PM

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Put aside for the moment that I'm (repeatedly) on record as not being happy with Krugman's NYT transformation.

For supporters and opponents alike, this transformation is indicative of something significant. You can see it here with Brad, too.

Especially with economic policy, but with many other things, Bush et al are lying sacks of shit. I'm a centrist Democrat, but there I go sounding "shrill". It's hard not to do with this bunch. I think it's generally counter-productive; but, again, it's hard not to do.

Posted by: Keith M Ellis on November 20, 2003 09:09 PM

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"...Founders 'gerrymandered the Senate in favor of the Republican Party'"

!

Surely that's an inaccurate paraphrase. Although I'll believe anything of Norquist.

Posted by: Keith M Ellis on November 20, 2003 09:12 PM

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I wish it was, Keith. From Norquist's June 8 guest op-ed "Step-by-Step Tax Reform" ( http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A32629-2003Jun8?language=printer ):

"In crafting its agenda for economic reform, the Bush administration has the luxury of being able to think and plan over a full eight years. This is because the 2002 redistricting gave Republicans a lock on the House of Representatives until 2012 and the Founding Fathers gerrymandered the Senate for Republican control. In the 50-50 election that was 2000, Bush carried 30 states and Al Gore 20. Over time, a reasonably competent Republican Party will tend to 60 Republicans in the Senate. This guarantee of united Republican government has allowed the Bush administration to work and think long-term."

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw on November 20, 2003 10:26 PM

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Regarding a joint prize, as opposed to a single one:

The selection process of the committee is inscrutable, although a detailed perusal of past winners suggests that residency in a fish eating territory may confer a slight competitive advantage, particulary in the field of economics.

More study would be needed to see if this is indeed the case, but of course this research would have to be done by a non-economist, as economists typically do the bare minimum of study and then proclaim that all answers are known (does "more study is needed" ever appear in their papers?) and they do not want to waste any of the government's money when they already know everything.

Posted by: northernLights on November 20, 2003 11:10 PM

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Bruce: I can't figure out what he's trying to say there. On the face of it, that statement is necessarily false in several respects, as we all know. So false in so many ways, that I just can't imagine that he's meaning to say what he's literally saying.

Perhaps he meant that the existence of the Senate, with its equal representation of the states, favors rural over urban states (and the framers well knew this); which, in today's political context, favors Republicans over Democrats.

Posted by: Keith M Ellis on November 21, 2003 12:38 AM

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Bruce Moomaw says, " While I don't propose to defend Krugman's other hyperbole, anyone who reads Norquist's eager public comments is forced to conclude that he's an extremely filthy-tempered fanatic. "

Don't forget that Norquist has been involved in probably illegal negotiations with the Taliban and may have been the only person at his office not arrested in a sweep of terrorist-linked charities. I wouldn't call him a "Nazi". But "objectively pro-terrorist" might not be far from the mark.

On Norquist
http://www.ocweekly.com/ink/03/01/cover-moxley.php
http://www.talkingpointsmemo.com/archives/000233.html

Keith Ellis, those people who understand what the Bush Administration is doing would be less than human if they were not angry. If one can't be shrill at a time like this, there's no hope for one.

Posted by: Charles on November 21, 2003 12:54 AM

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"Especially with economic policy, but with many other things, Bush et al are lying sacks of shit. I'm a centrist Democrat, but there I go sounding "shrill". It's hard not to do with this bunch. I think it's generally counter-productive; but, again, it's hard not to do."

Posted by Keith M Ellis at November 20, 2003 09:09 PM

One important thing to remember about Krugman is that he was and is a centrist. He had no problem criticizing Democrats - when they were in power, and proposing schemes that he didn't agree with.

What's really happened is that he's observed the administration's actions, noted their words, and remembers it later, so that he can compare. After a while, he concluded that these people were both highly dishonest, and in an unusually strong position to carry out dishonest acts.

The reason that he stands out in the media is that most of them are quislings. They hesitate to criticize a GOP administration even half as much as they roasted Clinton.

Posted by: Barry on November 21, 2003 05:58 AM

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Patrick and JimG and Mark would probably accuse PK of some sort of scurrilousness in today's column, in which he points out that the Medicare administrator's letter to the NYT contains a flatly false statement ("[it will] help every Medicare beneficiary").

To these partisan hacks, masquerading as principled libertarians and/or conservatives, calling a spade a spade is something only a hideously dishonest partisan would do. Of course, Mark has shown his true colors perfectly clearly here today; I should probably archive it (and his swift, principled retraction) for future reference when he has the gall to accuse _anyone_ else of mendacity.

Oh, and sorry, Jim, but people without an agenda to change (wreck) SS showed quite clearly that insolvency was _not_ a threat prior to Bush's radical reworking of the tax code. As you may recall, the whole point of SS reworking in the 80s was to deal with the actuarial certainty of Boomer retirement. That was back when people like PK could be less "partisan" because both sides had at least some ineterst in policy, as well as politics (please, Jim/Patrick/Mark, tell us all how principled and policy-oriented the Republican-written energy bill is, and how only a partisan, shrill hack would criticize it). Calculations showing SS insolvency were mostly predicated on Congress tearing up its IOUs to SS - something unthinkably irresponsible until this crew came into office. The only honest disagreements about SS solvency were some 35-40 years out, and the idea that 35 to 40 years wouldn't be enough time to deal with it non-catastrophically was the ultimate in "demagoguing" SS.

Oh, and nice letter, Brad. And I'd agree that the Economist did a decent edit on it; although I was surprised at how freely they rephrased things - I wouldn't have expected such latitude.

Posted by: JRoth on November 21, 2003 09:11 AM

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On today's Krugman column, I'd accuse him of pretending to have just fallen off a turnip truck. Imagine, "advocacy groups" acting in their own self-interest!

I'd say one of his friends ought to gift wrap a copy of Sowell's "Knowledge and Decisions" for him. Or perhaps read it to him, so he doesn't go on embarassing himself as an economist by ignoring the role incentives play in shaping behavior. Even the usual suspects here seem to have gotten over their sentimentality regarding democracy.

But, I'm interested in what JRoth thinks of that Republican hack Larry Summers admitting in an official Treasury report that the SS trust fund didn't hold real assets (i.e. the opposite of what Krugman has claimed)?

Posted by: Patrick R. Sullivan on November 21, 2003 10:33 AM

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>>SS trust fund didn't hold real assets (i.e. the opposite of what Krugman has claimed)?<<

Why aren't they as real as any other liabilities of the Treasury?

Posted by: Brad DeLong on November 21, 2003 11:07 AM

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"Why aren't they as real as any other liabilities of the Treasury?"

For purposes of saving to meet a future obligation, they are of course as real as any liability that a party issues to itself.

Posted by: Jim Glass on November 21, 2003 11:36 AM

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C'mon, Brad, isn't it obvious? Summers, PK, you, and probably Patrick all know that we're talking about intergovernmental IOU's. Should these IOU's be characterized as a "real asset" of the "trust fund"? That is purely a matter of semantics - it depends on context.

It is somewhat sad that Patrick is reduced to sophistry to try and make his point that PK is somehow being disingenuous.

Posted by: joe on November 21, 2003 12:00 PM

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Patrick Sullivan: "On today's Krugman column, I'd accuse him of pretending to have just fallen off a turnip truck. Imagine, 'advocacy groups' acting in their own self-interest!

"I'd say one of his friends ought to gift wrap a copy of Sowell's 'Knowledge and Decisions' for him. Or perhaps read it to him, so he doesn't go on embarassing himself as an economist by ignoring the role incentives play in shaping behavior. Even the usual suspects here seem to have gotten over their sentimentality regarding democracy."

Shucks, Pat, he never gave any indication that he didn't already know that " 'advocacy groups' frequently act in their own self-interest". What he was doing in that column, of course, was pointing out to the rather large number of newspaper readers who have NOT read Sowell's "Knowledge and Decisions" that AARP is trying to conceal the fact from its own rank-and-file members that it's now mutating into just that form of organization and no longer really represents their interests. (Thus the fact -- reported 2 days ago in the NY Times -- that a Hart poll shows 82% of AARP's members opposing its official stand on Bush's plan.)

And, by the way, the "usual suspects" schtick is getting tiresome. Obsessive repetition does not make something wittier.

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw on November 21, 2003 01:32 PM

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"Patrick and JimG and Mark would probably accuse PK of some sort of scurrilousness in today's column... To these partisan hacks, masquerading as principled libertarians and/or conservatives, calling a spade a spade is something only a hideously dishonest partisan would do."

And how do we describe the principles of someone who personally attacks others for what they "probably" would say, but didn't? ;-)

"Oh, and sorry, Jim, but people without an agenda to change (wreck) SS showed quite clearly that insolvency was _not_ a threat prior to Bush's radical reworking of the tax code."

Really? Tell that to those with the agenda to wreck SS at GAO. Take a look at GAO’s pre-Bush, pre-Bush tax cut, Year 2000 fiscal projections, in particular Figures 2 to 4, at http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d01385t.pdf

Then -- calling a spade a spade -- come back and tell us in what year they ended their projection because the whole federal government is fiscally busted with annual deficits over 20% of GDP and rocketing upward, due to SS and Medicare.

And note that was *before* the recession, with several years of surpluses still expected, as well as without the Bush tax cuts of course.

"The only honest disagreements about SS solvency were some 35-40 years out"

Ah! So you say it is merely a matter of “honest disagreement” as to whether under the pre-Bush tax law revenue “would have been more than enough to 'top up' Social Security and Medicare, allowing them to operate without benefit cuts for the next 75 years." ;-)

Not merely enough but *more* than enough, for 75 full years! (A claim he repeated for emphasis). Well, that is quite some disagreement with GAO having the federal gov’t go out of business 30 years earlier. Now -- calling a spade a spade -- can you name anyone who agrees with PK's side on this matter of honest disagreement? Even one person? ... Does even PK agree with that today?

Face it, it was a coyote howler on his part (that he has chosen not to acknowledge). But it's a wonderful weasel defense of him on your part.

SS and Medicare pre-Bush are on track to *finish* bankrupting the country in 40 years, as per GAO, and you say it's "demagoguing" to even mention that, since there's so much time left to “deal with it”. But as to the Bush tax cuts that have only a fraction of that fiscal effect -- why, they created the *real* fiscal problem with SS and Medicare ... right now!! ;-)

BTW, I also enjoy your rhetoric: "People without an agenda to change (wreck) SS ..." Change=wreck. ;-)

But how were you expecting to "deal with" SS and Medicare in the near future, in time to prevent them from putting the gov’t out of business as per GAO (during the period while I'll be collecting my benefits)? By changing them, perhaps? ;-)

"As you may recall, the whole point of SS reworking in the 80s was to deal with the actuarial certainty of Boomer retirement."

Um, no. The point of the Greenspan Commission’s reworking of SS in 1983 was to prevent SS’s insolvency *right then*, SS was broke *then*. The Commission never pretended that it had solved the long-term financing issues of SS.

I’d think that if you’re going to go around calling others names while posing as a morally superior call-a-spade-a-spade truth-teller, you might start showing some respect for basic facts, eh? Otherwise some names might come to mind for you ... fair’s fair, after all. ;-)

Posted by: Jim Glass on November 21, 2003 01:35 PM

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" Shucks, Pat, he never gave any indication that he didn't already know that " 'advocacy groups' frequently act in their own self-interest"."

Oh really, from today's column:

" One might therefore have expected an advocacy group ... to poll its members to be sure that they are well informed about what the bill contains and don't object to it."

Not if you're up to speed on Public Choice theory you wouldn't expect it.

Posted by: Patrick R. Sullivan on November 21, 2003 02:56 PM

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----------------------------------
>>SS trust fund didn't hold real assets (i.e. the opposite of what Krugman has claimed)?<<

Why aren't they as real as any other liabilities of the Treasury?

Posted by Brad DeLong at November 21, 2003 11:07 AM
----------------------------------

Because they are IOMes, not IOUs. As the Treasury put it in their Analytical Perspective for 2000:

" These funds are not set up to be pension funds, like the funds of private pension plans. They do not consist of real economic assets that can be drawn down in the future to fund benefits. In-stead, they are claims on the Treasury that, when redeemed, will have to be financed by raising taxes, borrowing from the public, or reducing benefits or other expenditures. The existence of large trust fund balances, therefore, does not, by itself, have any impact
on the Government’s ability to pay benefits."

and

" The Federal budget meaning of the term 'trust' differs significantly from the private sector usage. The beneficiary of a private trust owns
the trust's income and often its assets. A custodian manages the assets on behalf of the beneficiary according to the stipulations of
the trust, which he or she cannot change unilaterally.

" In contrast, the Federal Government owns the assets and earnings of most Federal trust funds, and it can unilaterally raise or lower
future trust fund collections and payments, or change the purpose for which the collections are used, by changing existing law...."

Posted by: Patrick R. Sullivan on November 21, 2003 03:27 PM

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" 'One might therefore have expected an advocacy group ... to poll its members to be sure that they are well informed about what the bill contains and don't object to it.' Not if you're up to speed on Public Choice theory you wouldn't expect it."

Please, Patrick. If you think (as so many poor naive Americans out there do think) that public advocacy groups are actually supposed to represent the wishes of their members, you would indeed think AARP should poll its membership. Krugman was simply pointing out to the huge number of citizens not as Wise and Cynical as you are that AARP was indeed fraudulent in claiming to represent the wishes of its members. It's likely soon to have a lot fewer members -- thanks, in part, to his column.

I see, by the way, that you still have the habit of frantically throwing up attempted distractions from the actual point as a kind of intellectual radar chaff -- the actual point, in this case, being that AARP's leadership is lying through its teeth when it claims to reflect the wishes of America's elderly, or even of its own members.

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw on November 21, 2003 05:49 PM

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As for Jim Glass, he's doen a beautiful job of proving that SS and Medicare would indeed have serious problems even without Bush's tax cuts. Which, of course, does absolutely nothing to prove that Bush's tax cuts haven't made the situation even worse. (Glass has in the past proposed, quite sensibly, that we need to cut off the top quintile of America's earners from SS and Medicare -- but Bush has done absolutely nothing of the sort, at the same time that he's considerably lowered their taxes.)

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw on November 21, 2003 05:54 PM

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************
Because they are IOMes, not IOUs
******************

There you go Prof. DeLong your Ph.D. is helpless in the face of such ruthless logic. Don't you know that those bonds are fake assets. No one would ever touch them if they were sold at auction tomorrow. They are tainted fake bonds. If only we had been smart enough to buy GM bonds with the social security surplus, it would have been real UOMEs but instead we bought gov't bonds and now they are fake IOMEs.

But now, its just so much confetti. burn baby burn, just like straw.

Posted by: strawman on November 21, 2003 10:51 PM

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