August 09, 2004

Ideologues Rather than Political Hacks

Paul Krugman writes about the employment situation:

Spin the Payrolls: By PAUL KRUGMAN Published: August 10, 2004

When Friday's dismal job report was released, traders in the Chicago pit began chanting, "Kerry, Kerry." But apologists for President Bush's economic policies are frantically spinning the bad news. Here's a guide to their techniques.

First, they talk about recent increases in the number of jobs, not the fact that payroll employment is still far below its previous peak.... Because job growth has finally turned positive, some economists (who probably know better) claim that prosperity has returned.... But job growth... can be higher in a bad year than a good year... there was rapid nonfarm job growth (8.1 percent) in 1934, a year of mass unemployment and widespread misery - but that year was slightly less terrible than 1933.... The job situation might have improved somewhat in the past year, but it's still not good.

Second... give numbers without context. President Bush boasts about 1.5 million new jobs over the past 11 months... barely enough to keep up with population growth, and it's worse than any 11-month stretch during the Clinton years.

Third, they cherry-pick any good numbers they can find... because July's household number was good, suddenly administration officials were telling reporters to look at that number, not the more reliable payroll data....

Finally, many apologists have returned to that old standby: the claim that presidents don't control the economy. But that's not what the administration said when selling its tax policies. Last year's tax cut was officially named the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003 - and administration economists provided a glowing projection of the job growth that would follow the bill's passage. That projection has, needless to say, proved to be wildly overoptimistic.

What we've just seen is as clear a test of trickledown economics as we're ever likely to get. Twice, in 2001 and in 2003, the administration insisted that a tax cut heavily tilted toward the affluent was just what the economy needed. Officials brushed aside pleas to give relief instead to lower- and middle-income families, who would be more likely to spend the money, and to cash-strapped state and local governments.... the actual results - huge deficits, but minimal job growth...

It is a substantial mystery--why there was nobody inside the Bush administration arguing for a good old-fashioned Keynesian fiscal stimulus program that got money to the people most likely to spend it. Even though their forecasts at the end of 2002 were predicting swift employment growth, there is always the questions, "What if something else bad happens?" You would certainly expect political operatives to ask it.

It is for this other other reasons that I find myself shifting my view of the George W. Bush administration. Political hacks seem to have less influence than I had thought. Anti-pragmatic ideologues--people who *know* what the truth is, *know* that it is sunny outside, and don't bother to raise the windowshade to check--have more influence than I had thought.

Posted by DeLong at August 9, 2004 08:57 PM | TrackBack | | Other weblogs commenting on this post

Y'know maybe Bush's policies are not such a failure. Productivity is up; wages are not (whoever was it that claimed the latter followed the former?). Taxes for the rich are way down. Labor has never been weaker. Social programs seem fiscally doomed in the long run, but not so immediately that Bush will be blamed. What, from Bush's perspective, could be wrong? Re-election? Doable: think rigged machines and manufactured threats.

Posted by: Martin Bento on August 9, 2004 09:24 PM


There is a theory, you know, advanced by some, that George W. Bush really is in charge.

The evidence increasingly seems to support it.

Posted by: Paul G. Brown on August 9, 2004 10:22 PM


Oh, it is easy: it is idiocy. After all, this is the nation of idiots (politically correct term: service economy).
People who spent most of their lives in jobs that involve little brain work appear more likely to eventually develop Alzheimer's disease (news - web sites), according to new study findings released Monday.

Posted by: a on August 9, 2004 10:22 PM


You have to admit that when it comes to tax cuts, the Bush administrations sticks to their principles. No matter how misguided they may be.

Posted by: Joshua on August 9, 2004 10:23 PM


Political hacks and true believers are co-dependents, Professor DeLong. The hacks decide the policy and the believers decide the rationalizations for its failures.

It's a system that works perfectly for everyone except those who are neither hacks nor brainwashed.

Posted by: Charles on August 9, 2004 11:15 PM


Hey Doc,

After watching this gang of right-wing ideologues in action, federal appointments at all levels, psuedo scientific advisory boards, far out judicial nominations, insane tax policies, assaults on civil liberties, the many samll cuts of wierd bureaucratic decisions, revocation of international treaties, "pre-emptive" foreign policy, etc., etc., (to the point nausea) .....moves that span the entire spectrum of available governmental decision making..... you're coming to this conclusion just now?

Well, better late than never.

This is the essence of answer to the question: "why do they hate him so?" While Reagan could "talk the talk", he didn't let that necessarily straightjacket him to "walk the walk" (cf., backdown on radical supply side economics, his relationship with Gorbachov, etc.). There were still a few adults around. This administration seems intent to seek a consistency which overrideth all reason. The frightening hobgoblin of small minds. It is truly scary.

I daresay Krugman's analysis of the radical right as a "revolutionary force" may well be accurate.

Posted by: bobbyp on August 10, 2004 12:50 AM


Geez, these rhetorical questions about why the Bush Administration does things are getting tedious. Smarter people than me have said that all of their actions are totally explainable by following the money; they will do whatever gets them and their cronies the most money the quickest. Even the Iraq war is making their cronies billions. No idealogy is required.

Posted by: Tim H. on August 10, 2004 05:32 AM


I like to see them try to spin these numbers, because the state of the economy is something people feel in their everyday lives. If Americans are anxious about the economy, this spinning just serves to further undermine the administration's credibility.

Posted by: Bob H on August 10, 2004 06:26 AM


They’re NeoCOMs, that’s what they are!

Like many of my friends who view things political from the dexterous side, I’ve been somewhat mystified by the way our brothers and sisters on the sinister side get all lathered up whenever they hear or utter the word NEOCON. Thinking that such a word could be used to fire up our troops in a similar manner, I now offer the word NEOCOM to describe our (loyal?) opposition. Following are characteristics I’ve observed of modern Democrat operatives:

1 – Like the OLDCOMS, they are never bothered by inconsistencies in their political arguments always picking the point that will gore our ox TODAY, exhibiting great alacrity in using the opposite point to gore our ox tomorrow.

2 - Like the OLDCOMS, they are committed to gaining control of all government power centers so they can direct and control all phases of private life. Karl Marx and Louis XIV are their Patron Saints. Hmm, no wonder they admire France and Germany so.

3 - Like the OLDCOMS, their intellectual Qaeda is the academy. Hmm, the fine German universities of the Weimar Republic were also the prime means to the ends of National Socialism that filled the empty heads of youths with foolishness that sent them off to willingly kill or die by the tens of millions.

4 - Like the OLDCOMS, their economics is really POLITICAL ECONOMICS that subordinates wealth building to political goals.

5 - Like the OLDCOMS, they feign humanitarianism in their expression of shock and horror at “innocent” deaths caused when America exerts its power to defend itself while urging “understanding” and “using subtlety” while ignoring the many orders of magnitude greater number of deaths inflicted in the name of “Liberation” like in North Korea, Cuba or China or by murderous but allied despots like Saddam Hussein.

6 – Like the OLDCOMS, even their mediocre lights like Barbra Streisand, Janine Garafolo and Alec Baldwin consider themselves intellectually superior to any Republicans, especially more so than President Bush and President Reagan.

7 – Like the OLDCOMS, even the most dissolute and venal spokesmen like Bill Clinton consider themselves morally superior to each and every Republican.

8 - Like the OLDCOMS, they consider their narrow minded perspective to be THE TRUTH while our more nuanced understanding are merely LIES.

I invite my kind readers to add their own observations of this strange phenomenon in the comments section below.

Prominent Neocoms include the myopic Paul Krugman...

Posted by: Adrian Spidle on August 10, 2004 06:56 AM


Bush comes from Texas, "a low tax no service" state. In Texas, "the best government is no government."

The overriding Bush domestic ideology is that social services is not a role for government, that social services is unimportant and if given no other options, people will take care of themselves and the church will pick up the slack.

Reread Dilulio:

"In eight months, I heard many, many staff discussions, but not three meaningful, substantive policy discussions. There were no actual policy white papers on domestic issues. There were, truth be told, only a couple of people in the West Wing who worried at all about policy substance and analysis, .... Every modern presidency moves on the fly, but, on social policy and related issues, the lack of even basic policy knowledge, and the only casual interest in knowing more, was somewhat breathtaking—discussions by fairly senior people who meant Medicaid but were talking Medicare; near-instant shifts from discussing any actual policy pros and cons to discussing political communications, media strategy, et cetera. Even quite junior staff would sometimes hear quite senior staff pooh-pooh any need to dig deeper for pertinent information on a given issue."

Dilulio makes it crystal clear. The leadership, starting with Bush, did not think domestic policy was important. Ergo, no forum where a "a good old-fashioned Keynesian fiscal stimulus program" could even be presented.

ReRead the link to the economic policy meeting with O'Neill.

Would any of the people seated at that table be likely to present a "a good old-fashioned Keynesian fiscal stimulus program"? (HSS and Labor are not represented) If you had a seat at that table and wanted to present "a good old-fashioned Keynesian fiscal stimulus program" argument, would it have been possible?

Posted by: bakho on August 10, 2004 06:58 AM


The current administration wants to do away with what it calls the "Nanny State" where the strong help the weak and instead they want to revert back to a time when the rich and powerfull were the Darwinian survivors and the rest of us were merely the food chain. By cutting taxes Bush and his cronies are starving the federal government so that it will be forced to cut back or elliminate the New Deal protections of Social Security and Medicare along with some of the more recent adaptations thereto. In addition by starving the fed they can get rid of those pesty environmental and work laws and pull the value out everything for their own profit. With the advent of modern transportation and telecommunications not to mention computers they are then able to sit up in their pristine private preserves and enjoy all the beauty and wilderness that they have denied the rest of us by the polution caused by their industry.

The Bush economic plans were never intended to work because everyone knew they couldn't work on the economic level they are intended to work on a political level .

Posted by: Karl on August 10, 2004 07:57 AM


Why give money to the middle class as part of a stimulus package? Much better to let them *borrow* their way to prosperity.

In this way the truly needy at the top of the food chain are guaranteed the future proceeds of the burgeoning middle-class debt service, while simultaneously benefitting from the current tax cuts. It's a truly brilliant win-win proposition!

Posted by: djs on August 10, 2004 08:14 AM


The "true believer" analysis is right: cutting taxes is the raison d'etre of the Bush administration. If they had to choose between a tax cut, and re-election, they would choose the tax cut (assuming the cut was drastic enough to force the New Deal donnybrook they desire).

Everything else--stem cells, the neo-con foreign policy--is merely a means to keeping the Bushies in power long enough to unbolt the New Deal from its fiscal foundation.

Posted by: son volt on August 10, 2004 08:16 AM


1. Decide TRUTH
2. Research
3. Keep facts that match TRUTH and factoids that appear to match TRUTH; toss facts and context that conflicts with TRUTH.

This is the M.O. of Creationists, who constitute the vast majority of registered Republicans (as per Pew Research). Why should their elected leaders behave any differently?

Posted by: Dem on August 10, 2004 08:18 AM


I witnessed a Pro-Bush campaign television ad last night.
It was Bush beaming about and the central message was:
1.) if you own something, a house or a business, you own a stake in America...

That was went on for a 30 seconds or minute and kept hammering the same note.
Own something, then you are a part of America

After that TV commericial, I realized that this is all he has to say. He has no track record economically to brag about. Just a simple notion that if you own a business or a home, you have a stake of America. It was the most stupid, inane ane empty campaign ad I have ever witnessed. Basically touting some kind of national pride and personal pride- we should vote for Bush now because of this notion. Very strange indeed.

Posted by: Dave S on August 10, 2004 08:22 AM


Luskin declares victory for O'Lielly in his debate with Krugman:

The real problem is Krugman was too civil. When you're trying to debate someone who's shaking his finger in your face, insulting you, and shouting you down, the correct response in to mock him. Krugman just isn't used to dealing with thugs of O'Reilly's caliber. He let O'Reilly intimidate him cheap bullying tactics.

To Dick Cheney with civility when dealing with Rethuglicans like these. Krugman should have been trying to provoke O'Lielly into taking a swing at him on national television.

We won't talk about Luskin's forecasting record. Before the market tanked recently, Luskin was recommended investing in a double leveraged index of the NASDAQ. If you had listen to Luskin, you would have lost your shirt.

Posted by: Kosh on August 10, 2004 08:23 AM


One cannot imagine a scenario where Luskin would admit Krugman beat O'Lielly. No such scenario exists.

Posted by: Dem on August 10, 2004 08:32 AM


listening to luskin is like listening to adrian spindle....

Posted by: howard on August 10, 2004 09:06 AM



I witnessed a Pro-Bush Television campaign ad last night.
It was a beaming Bush (side view only) bragging about how if you owned a house; or owned a business you have a "stake" in America. The ad went on for 30 seconds or 1 minute with these nationalistic and family themes. In other words, all you have to do is own a house or business, and you are a winner- you are a part of the American for me.

It was the most inane and empty campaign television ad...basically this was all the man had to say. There was no economic bragging rights as there is nothing economical related "good news" to campaign on.
His message repeated over and over: "own a house; or a business- you have a stake in Amererica- the American dream- an investment. But it never mentioned the word: "dream", only implying it.
That's the good news to preach now and forever. This is all we need to put America back on the map!

Posted by: Dave S on August 10, 2004 09:21 AM


The question is how seriously sluggish the economy will continue to be as far as middle class households are concerned. There was no reason for the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates and there is no reason to continue to raise at this time. Interest rates had already risen to anticipate the Fed, but it was clear employment gains were going to be slowly achieved and there is all too little gain in wages and benefits.

Posted by: Anne on August 10, 2004 09:22 AM


The Krugman vs O'Rielly exchange tells a lot about the present state of televison. There is simply no place in modern American televison for civility, reason, or a serious discussion of our problems and issues. O'Reilly knows his arguments are mostly bulls**t. Bluster is all that is left.

Posted by: bncthor on August 10, 2004 09:40 AM


The Spidle family name is disgraced one more time.

Posted by: zizka / John Emerson on August 10, 2004 09:51 AM


Brad - Over at Left Coaster there's a new interview with Paul Krugman that addresses the radicalism of the current administration.

Posted by: Dave Johnson on August 10, 2004 10:26 AM


Uh, yeah, Adrian. I'm just picturing you with your rightwing buddies: "No, I said 'com'... 'COM'... with an M... muh muh muh... M not N, see?"

I don't doubt the sincerity of your beliefs, but I suggest you leave the sloganeering to professionals.

Posted by: Paul Callahan on August 10, 2004 10:58 AM



More news from my last post:
the TV ad campaign last night : 30 seconds:

ad title: 'OWNERSHIP'

Bush: "because I understand if you own something, you have a vital stake in the future of America."

The Kerry campaign stated that Mr. Bush's idea of spreading ownership seems not likely to appeal to voters with minimal savings, since they were more worried with daily survival and the snails pace of job creation. (1st you have to have a good job to save money for ownership), duh!

Jason Furman (Mr. Kerry's economic policy director) stated in Wall Street Journal, Aug. 10 that: "Talking about an 'ownership society', shows George Bush continues to be out of touch with the problems families face, and he contunies not to have a plan"
Mr. Furman went to tally that Bush's ownership society in his 1st four years is more like a 'debt society'. (He referred to high level of household depbt mirroring the new national deficit.)
The wall street article went to state that Bush's idea of 'ownership' has its roots in reform of social security.

ERA OF OWNERSHIP (That's the ticket) It is so simple. Vote for me. The wheels are really turning now, no other message on ad campaign but this?

Posted by: Dave S on August 10, 2004 12:32 PM


"The real problem is Krugman was too civil. When you're trying to debate someone who's shaking his finger in your face, insulting you, and shouting you down, the correct response in to mock him. Krugman just isn't used to dealing with thugs of O'Reilly's caliber. He let O'Reilly intimidate him cheap bullying tactics."

That's what I call: "to be intellectually superior."

Posted by: El Gringo on August 10, 2004 04:42 PM


On ideologues vs hacks (the original thread) I think that one of the things that convinced Brad is the first comment on the post immediately below. It convinced me. Bush may be a liar but he is also an insane idiot.

Posted by: Robert Waldmann on August 10, 2004 05:55 PM


Bob, "Espresso" and "Corriere" or "Espresso" and "Repubblica"?

Posted by: El Gringo on August 10, 2004 06:23 PM


Both the hacks and the true believers think that what is on TV is reality, and so if you control TV you control reality. Neither 'believes' in policy working, but the hacks do well as long as a different party is handling policy.

Posted by: Matt Stoller on August 10, 2004 10:45 PM


Adrian Spittle: methinks the blogwhore doth protest too much.

Posted by: ahem on August 11, 2004 10:06 AM


When trying to solve a mystery, there are two rules: (1) find out who benefits, and (2) if a suspect appears to be acting irrationally, the most likely explanation is that you do not understand their true goals. As an exercise, consider that things appear much more logical if you assume three things. George Bush is in charge. George Bush is intelligent, or at least shrewd. George Bush's goal is the creation of an American aristocracy based not on land ownership, but rather on owning vast financial wealth. The candidates for membership in this aristocracy are officers and directors of large corporations, and their descendents.

Weak oversight of business by the SEC and other government agencies is an important ploy, as the candidates must be able to loot the companies by whom they are employed in order to acquire sufficient wealth to make this stick.

Government programs, in addition to their stated benefits, should pump additional money at large corporations in order to make such looting more effective.

Tax policy is clear -- remove the estate tax, reduce taxes on wealth, reduce taxes on high incomes. The end justifies the means, and you only have eight years in which to accomplish most of your goals, so make whatever claims you want about the benefits of such cuts, just get them done.

The debt is of no consequence, so long as the new aristocracy controls the government sufficiently to avoid future tax burdens from falling on them. Arguably, the debt can be dealt with by inflating it away, and the aristocrats will protect their financial interests by shifting to Euros and other more stable currencies.

Supply-side economists are a useful tool, whether you believe what they say or not, because they will argue passionately for tax cuts, and many people will find the arguments plausible.

The neo-cons are a useful tool. War is a useful piece of misdirection, and provides another avenue for pumping tax money into the large corporations. A police action in Afghanistan is simply not as effective at that as a large ground campaign in Iraq.

One can even make a case that the Religious Right is simply a useful tool. For the time being, you still need votes from the "peasants", and it is straightforward to get these particular votes.

Just kidding around here -- really.

Posted by: Michael Cain on August 11, 2004 11:42 AM


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