« Aid to Poor Countries: "Cruel Joke" Week | Main | "Who Gentrifies Low-Income Neighborhoods?" »

Friday, May 30, 2008

Ending the Soft Ride for Mendacious Politicians

Paul Krugman, "a self-described pussycat":

Maverick loads gun for new round of shots, by Ben Naparstek, Business Day: Today, Paul Krugman doesn't seem like a maverick. A CNN poll in April found George Bush to be the least popular American president in modern history... But in the run-up to the Iraq invasion, Krugman was one of the few pundits in the mainstream media to unflinchingly attack Bush. Since beginning his twice-weekly column in The New York Times in January 2000, Krugman has relentlessly accused Bush of lying — about the motives behind cutting taxes for the rich and attempting to roll back social security, for example, and about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

After the September 11, 2001, attacks, newspapers and magazines of the liberal centre ricocheted to the right. As the Times, The Washington Post, New Yorker and New Republic fell obediently in line with the Bush Administration, Krugman's heretical columns made him a poster boy for the anti-war left and a hate figure to neocons. "I was largely alone on the major op-ed pages," says the mild-mannered 55-year-old Princeton economics professor. "We look back now at 2002 and say, 'Nothing really bad happened to people. We did not have a new era of McCarthyism'. But that was very far from clear at the time. It was pretty frightening." ...

In the fevered climate of post-9/11 America, his outspokenness attracted death threats. But Krugman, a self-described pussycat, ... never set out to fight political battles. "It has been a much less easy life than I expected to be leading at this point. I should be sitting around in well-stuffed armchairs reflecting upon my life's research work."

When The New York Times approached Krugman to write a column in 1999, he wrongly presumed it wouldn't be too time-consuming. The main burden would be financial — the newspaper's conflict of interest rules prohibited him from giving corporate talks, for which he commanded up to $50,000. With the American political scene calm and the economy booming, Krugman expected to write about business deals, the internet, and developing world financial crises. But the 2000 presidential election politicised him. "A funny thing was happening. The candidate of one major party was being blatantly dishonest in what he said — at that point about economics — and no one was calling him on it." Krugman argues that the media give a soft ride to mendacious politicians because journalists are trained to consider two sides of any issue.

"If Bush said that the world was flat, the headline on the news analysis would read 'Shape of Earth: Views Differ'," he said in 2000. In "The Great Unravelling..., Krugman explains why many people failed to grasp the radicalism of the Bush agenda: "People who have been accustomed to stability can't bring themselves to believe what is happening when faced with a revolutionary power, and are therefore ineffective in opposing it."

He understands why journalists feared speaking up. "There really has been, for the most part, no reward for having gotten in front of the story and reporting what was going on. On the contrary, people who got it right have been fired and there's no cost to having gotten it wrong. Most news outlets are owned by large corporations. The journalists may be mostly highly educated people from the north-east who tend to be liberal, but the ultimate decisions on the coverage are made by people who are, on the whole, Republicans."

Whereas most Times columnists are career reporters, Krugman's academic background means he was never socialised to follow the dominant media line. ... Krugman maintains his independence by leading the relatively secluded life of a university professor in New Jersey. ...

Even Krugman's admirers sometimes flinch at his savagery. "He steps over the top," says Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize-winning economist and close acquaintance of Krugman. [...read more...]

If the Democrats win this presidency this fall, it will be interesting to see how people react when he is writing about Democrats rather than Republicans (it already has been interesting). My view is that Krugman has been right when most everyone else was wrong, and, agree or disagree, he's earned the right to be heard.

Update: Free Exchange seems to have stumbled across the same article (it's from an Australian business publication) and comments here.

Update: Stephen Moore of the WSJ says:

A few weeks ago, I gave a talk about tax policy to a group of elderly people ... I reminded the audience that the estate tax is scheduled to fall from 45% today to zero in 2010, but then rise all the way up to 55% in 2011. I joked that what we have here is the "Throw Mama From the Train Tax."


Democrats are starting to wake up to the death-tax calamity

I'm afraid he has this wrong, he seems to just be waking up to this, but Krugman was all over this years ago - in 2001 - even using the same joke:

Reckonings; Bad Heir Day, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times, May 30, 2001: ...The Bush tax plan was always peculiar: in order to hide the true budget impact, its authors delayed many of the biggest tax cuts until late into the 10-year planning period; repeal of the estate tax, in particular, was put off to 2010. But even that left the books insufficiently cooked, so last week the conferees added a "sunset" clause, officially causing the whole bill to expire, and tax rates to bounce back to 2000 levels, at the beginning of 2011.

So in the law as now written, heirs to great wealth face the following situation: If your ailing mother passes away on Dec. 30, 2010, you inherit her estate tax-free. But if she makes it to Jan. 1, 2011, half the estate will be taxed away. That creates some interesting incentives. Maybe they should have called it the Throw Momma From the Train Act of 2001.

That's by no means the only weird element in the tax bill. ...

Moore tries to blame it on Democrats, then says:

the obvious solution to a death-tax nightmare scenario in 2010 is to make the estate-tax repeal permanent.

Krugman predicted this:

In short, the tax bill is a joke. But if the administration has its way, the joke is on us. For the bill is absurd by design. The administration, knowing that its tax cut wouldn't fit into any responsible budget, pushed through a bill that contains the things it wanted most -- big tax cuts for the very, very rich -- and used whatever accounting gimmicks it could find to make the overall budget impact seem smaller than it is. The idea is that when the absurdities become apparent -- when mobs of angry junior vice presidents from New Jersey start demonstrating against the A.M.T., or when elderly multimillionaires develop a suspiciously high rate of fatal accidents -- Congress will always respond with further tax cuts. ...

Someday, responsible politicians — or is that an oxymoron? — will have to untangle this mess. ... But for now, it's a defensive game. The administration, having successfully rammed through a ridiculous tax bill, will try to bamboozle us on other matters. ...

    Posted by on Friday, May 30, 2008 at 09:54 AM in Economics, Press | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (83)


    TrackBack URL for this entry:

    Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Ending the Soft Ride for Mendacious Politicians:


    Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.