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Monday, December 19, 2005

Paul Krugman: Tanks on the Take

Paul Krugman has more on a story noted here Saturday in Cato Senior Scholar Resigns Over Lobbyist Payments:

Tankers on the Take, by Paul Krugman, NY Times: Not long ago Peter Ferrara, a senior policy adviser at the Institute for Policy Innovation, seemed on the verge of becoming a conservative icon. Before the Bush administration's sales pitch for Social Security privatization fell flat, admiring articles about the Bush plan's genesis often gave Mr. Ferrara credit for starting the privatization movement back in 1979. Now Mr. Ferrara has become a different sort of icon. BusinessWeek Online reports that both Mr. Ferrara and Doug Bandow, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, were paid by the ubiquitous Jack Abramoff to write "op-ed articles favorable to the positions of some of Abramoff's clients."

Now, I never had any illusions about intellectual integrity in the world of right-wing think tanks. It has been clear for a long time that so-called analysts at many of these think tanks are, in effect, paid to support selected policies and politicians. But it never occurred to me that the pay-for-play schemes were so blatant. In fact, most deals ... probably aren't that blatant. For the most part, people employed by right-wing think tanks don't have to be specifically paid to support certain positions, because they understand that supporting those positions comes with the job...

But it turns out that implicit deals ... are sometimes, perhaps often, supplemented with explicit payments for punditry. In return for Abramoff checks, Mr. Bandow and Mr. Ferrara wrote op-ed articles about such unlikely subjects as the entrepreneurial spirit of the Mississippi Choctaws and the free-market glories of the Northern Mariana Islands. ...

Mr. Bandow has confessed to a "lapse of judgment" and resigned from Cato. But neither Mr. Ferrara nor his employer believe that he did anything wrong. The president of Mr. Ferrara's institute told BusinessWeek Online that "I have a sense that there are a lot of people at think tanks who have similar arrangements." Alas, he's probably right. Let's hope that journalists ... track down those people with "similar arrangements," and that as they do, they don't fall into two ever-present temptations.

First, if the latest pay-for-punditry story starts to get traction, the usual suspects will claim that liberal think tanks and opinion writers are also on the take. (I'm getting my raincoat ready for the slime attack on my own ethics...) Reporters and editors will be tempted to give equal time to these accusations, however weak the evidence, in an effort to appear "balanced." They should resist the temptation. If ... there isn't any Democratic equivalent of Jack Abramoff - that's what the public deserves to be told.

Second, there will be the temptation to ... treat Mr. Abramoff as a rogue, unrepresentative actor. In fact ... Mr. Abramoff wasn't off on his own. He wasn't even a lobbyist in the traditional sense; he's better described as a bag man, running a slush fund for Tom DeLay and other Republican leaders. The point is that there really isn't much difference between Mr. Abramoff's paying Mr. Ferrara to praise the sweatshops of the Marianas and the Department of Education's paying Armstrong Williams to praise No Child Left Behind. In both cases, the ultimate paymaster was the Republican political machine.

And inquiring minds want to know: Who else is on the take? Or has the culture of corruption spread so far that the question is, Who isn't?

Previous (12/16) column: Paul Krugman: Drugs, Devices, and Doctors
Next (12/23) column: Paul Krugman: The Tax-Cut Zombies

Updates: Krugman follow up in Money Talks, Full column, Second Money Talks follow up]

    Posted by on Monday, December 19, 2005 at 12:21 AM in Economics, Politics | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (16)

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