New York Times blogger and Nobel laureate economist Paul Krugman believes that the right way to debate economic policy is to attack your opponent at his weakest point, rather than to engage your opponent's strongest arguments.
If we were to give Krugman the Krugman treatment, it’s not hard to see where we would attack Krugman: his attempts to write about conservatives.
First Krugman admits he doesn't read conservatives: “Some have asked if there aren't conservative sites I read regularly. Well, no.”
Fine. “Life is short,” Krugman writes. Then you would think life is too short to attack conservatives. But that seems to be Krugman’s favorite pastime. In fact, it's pretty clear that part of his professional goal is to convince many liberals that conservative arguments are, per se, illegitimate. Unsurprisingly, Krugman attacks conservative arguments very poorly — as you would expect from someone who brags about not reading the topic he claims to be writing on.
In one of my favorite recent examples of Krugman not reading a conservative, that conservative was Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, where I am a visiting fellow. I assume Krugman accidentally caught a glimpse of Brooks's op-ed because the op-ed ran on Krugman's own editorial page.
Krugman placed Brooks among defenders of the one percent who have “a hard time wrapping their minds around the notion that anyone might find 21st-century finance capitalism a bit, well, unfair.”
I happen to know Brooks has his mind wrapped around this unfairness pretty well. Here he is saying “we see the kinds of unfair outcomes common today: bailouts for connected corporations, subsidies for favored industries, and rewards for unions.”
But more to the point, here’s what Brooks writes in the very op-ed Krugman was knocking:
People who believe that hard work brings success do not begrudge others their prosperity. But if the game looks rigged, envy and a desire for redistribution will follow. … [W]e must increase mobility for more Americans with a radical opportunity agenda. … It means recalibrating the safety net to ensure that work always pays — such as an expansion of the earned-income tax credit.
I also was tickled when Krugman wrote an entire column dedicated to calling libertarian populism “bunk” while never once citing a self-described libertarian populist or addressing any of the policies libertarian populists are advocating these days. Instead, Krugman just asserts that libertarian populism is all about “a flat tax” and “a return to the gold standard,” and then blames libertarian populists for “destroying the safety net.”
Where did he get this from? Certainly not from reading what the few people who actually describe themselves as libertarian populists like me, Ben Domenech, or Conn Carroll, write on the libertarian populist agenda.
Items espoused by us three include:
• “Break up the banks”
• “Return education to the states”
• “Revenue-neutral tax simplification"
• “Reform of higher education, prison and justice systems, civil liberty protections, and an assault on D.C. cronyism from green energy to Big Banks”
• “Drastic cuts in the payroll taxes”
• “Don’t force them to buy health insurance”
• “Allow them to buy prescription drugs from Canada”
Krugman could have argued against these prescriptions, which he easily could have found with a little bit of Google. But Google is really hard for Krugman. I know Google is hard for Krugman because of his latest column, which includes this gem:
[W]e're told that conservatives, the Tea Party in particular, oppose handouts because they believe in personal responsibility, in a society in which people must bear the consequences of their actions. Yet it's hard to find angry Tea Party denunciations of huge Wall Street bailouts.
Wow. Trying to think of a falser statement about Tea Partiers, I came up with this: They hate TriCorner hats.
Let’s examine how “hard” it is “to find angry Tea Party denunciations of huge Wall Street bailouts.”
• SmarterTimes finds three such denunciations in a quick search of the New York Times news pages, including,
• “Sharron Angle ‘the Tea Party darling from Nevada,’ denouncing Senator McCain as ‘Lord of the TARP.’ "
• “Senator Robert F. Bennett, Republican of Utah, was jeered at a party convention by people chanting ‘TARP, TARP, TARP.’"
• “Speaking to the conservative activists, Mr. Hatch, a Republican in his sixth term, was booed as he tried to defend his vote for the TARP program that bailed out the banks — a bugaboo for conservatives."
• From the earliest Tea Party marches on Tax day in 2009, you will find anti-bailout fervor.
• From the biggest Tea Party event, September 12, 2009, ABC News found "grassroots demonstrations that began across the country last spring to protest Democratic tax policies, and government bailouts of the banking and auto industries."
• If any big Beltway group is affiliated with the Tea Party, it's FreedomWorks, which scored both house bailouts with double-weight — plus the auto bailout. That means bailout votes accounted for more than 26 percent of a House member's score.
• Bob Bennett — the only Republican incumbent Senator to lose a primary in the 2010 Tea Party wave — was attacked as Bailout Bob and blasted for his “immense role” in crafting the bailouts. Liberals defended Bennett afterwards with odes like this:
“[Bennett] lost a bid for the Republican nomination thanks in part to strong opposition from the tea-partyers. Bennett’s offense: He joined the Democrats in voting for the bailouts and co-sponsored a health-care bill that would require everyone to buy insurance.”
• Oh, here are the “six simple principles” of the group Tea Party Express. Let's see what Principle No. 1 is: “No more bailouts.” Krugman must be using Lycos if he found that “hard to find.”
• On the Tea Party Patriots website, there are 908 mentions of the word “bailout” — which makes that word more than 6 times more common than the word “welfare,” which appears 136 times (with 31 of those being about “corporate welfare”).
I could go on and on, but then I’d just be repeating the obvious:
Paul Krugman writes confidently on a subject he has no idea about — a subject he goes out of his way to have no idea about — and this causes him to write embarrassingly wrong things.