TCS Daily

Paul Krugman, Meet Jayson Blair

By Stephen W. Stanton - June 2, 2003 12:00 AM

My only reluctance to giving Paul Krugman the Fisking he so richly deserves is that I hate to give the guy free publicity. Worse still, I might encourage Krugman imitators. Remember, people line up to make fools of themselves on Jerry Springer, too.

Alas, in the words of Jefferson, "The price of liberty is eternal vigilance." Someone has to shed the light of truth on one of Krugman's latest diatribes, even if it wins him a few more partisan fans.

Predictable Princeton Paul called a recent column "Stating the Obvious". The title fits, though not in the way intended. This column is the clearest evidence yet of what many have long known: In his columns, Krugman puts shrill partisanship ahead of sound economics and straightforward reporting

For starters, Krugman calls the latest tax cut's $320 billion price tag "a joke". He asserts that the true cost is two and a half times that sum. Of course, he did not say how he came up with his figure. The $320 billion cost is not an annual figure. It represents the cumulative reduction in tax receipts over the course of 10 years based on the ridiculous assumption that lower tax rates will not spur any further economic activity. (Krugman should dust off his Econ 101 textbook and brush up on supply, demand, and deadweight losses.)

He then goes on to write the tax cut "is so large that the nation can't possibly afford it while keeping its other promises." Now, I am surprised that an Ivy League professor would confuse the term "exorbitant spending projections" with "promises". In fairness, he teaches economics, not English.

Krugman again beats this fictitious dead horse: "It's no secret that right-wing ideologues want to abolish programs Americans take for granted... programs that have become fundamental to the American way of life will be gutted." Once again, I will give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he considers 9,362 pork barrel projects fundamental to our way of life. Maybe they are well worth $22.5 billion, and should be taken for granted.

Then again, maybe not. Nick Schulz pointed out the absurdity of Krugman's thinking. "Where I come from, taking things for granted is not a good thing. My wife doesn't like it when I take her for granted. My work doesn't like it when I take my paycheck for granted. Has liberalism morphed into defending programs that Americans 'take for granted'? We're a long way from JFK asking what you can do for your country." Then again, Krugman CAN take his job for granted. He has tenure.

No leftist screed would be complete without a hearty dose of class warfare. Krugman does not disappoint. Anticipating spending restraint in some redistributionist programs, Krugman complains, "The pain of these benefit cuts will fall on the middle class and the poor."

I don't know how to put this delicately, Paul, so I'll use the vernacular, "No sh--, Sherlock." When you stop giving away free money, you upset the people who always got it. Working for a living is a real pain after getting used to handouts.

I was a little worried when I got halfway through the column without yet reading, "the tax cuts overwhelmingly favor the rich." Krugman put that near the end this time. Very clever the way he plays around with his writing style. I see why the Times pays him so much.

His argument makes as little sense as ever. Last I checked, the rich not only pay more taxes than everybody else, they also pay a lot more tax per dollar of income. The tax code is still extremely progressive. Look at the updated withholding tables [.pdf]. If I earned $1,245 a week, I would pay less than $150 in income taxes, about 12%. If I managed to make $3,600, I would need to pay $780, almost 22%, plus 33% of every additional dollar. Do the rich seem all that favored to you?

I tried to figure out a reason for the good professor's intransigence in favor of high marginal tax rates. Then I remembered that higher tax rates increase the value of the tax deductions that wealthy Princeton alumni receive for making the donations that pay Krugman's professorial salary. But this is a Fisking, not a character assassination. Please forgive this irrelevant aside

Krugman complains, "Federal taxes are already historically low as a share of G.D.P." First of all, I have no idea why that is such a bad thing. Second of all, Krugman's history books must be different from mine. He makes the revealing point that "Once the new round of cuts takes effect, federal taxes will be lower than their average during the Eisenhower administration." What his readers do not realize is that the top tax rate under Ike [.xls] was an unconscionable 92%. You read that right, no missing decimals. To be fair, the top rate was subject to a maximum effective rate limitation equal to 88% of statutory net income. Is that what Krugman wants?

Krugman reiterates a quote from The Financial Times bemoaning the Republicans' position that "long-held views on income distribution also require radical revision." Sure, these views are long-held. Communism existed ever since Marx wrote his Manifesto. Does that make redistribution any more desirable? I read Marx's Manifesto. Nowhere did it say, "From each nothing, except for a few folks who shall give 92%."

Throughout his column, Krugman implies that Democrats would not cut spending as much as Bush. Of course, he ignores the fact that Bush actually grew the federal budget considerably. Conservatives are criticizing Bush for spending too much even as Krugman lambastes him for spending too little. Well more than half of the federal budget goes towards entitlement and redistribution programs. The rest is carved up among the military, law enforcement, and administration of government agencies. So, if not his precious handouts, where would Krugman cut the budget? Would he make our soldiers drive rickety old tanks instead of modern M1A1s? Would he cut funding for the EPA, OSHA, or Education? I doubt it. In fact, I doubt he would ever cut government spending. He might even grant tenure to every program that wants it.

But Krugman risks taking too much for granted. The New York Times isn't Princeton, especially after the Jayson Blair nonsense. Howell Raines is in no position to grant tenure to careless hacks.

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