« The Pay and Gender Gap. | Main | Antoine Clark »

September 05, 2005

Paul Krugman’s Argument.

Here’s the nut of Paul Krugman’s argument:

Each day since Katrina brings more evidence of the lethal ineptitude of federal officials. I'm not letting state and local officials off the hook, but federal officials had access to resources that could have made all the difference, but were never mobilized.

There’s certainly a goodly amount of truth in that.

Now, let’s recast it slightly.

Federal bureaucrats, appointed by politicians for political reasons, are incompetent. I, Professor Krugman, an eminent thinker and writer, therefore propose that the health system of the United States should be taken over by federal bureaucrats who will be appointed by politicians for political reasons.

And they will not be incompetent. Nope, not a chance, No Siree.

It’s a terribly convincing piece of logic that, don’t you agree?

September 5, 2005 in Politics | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Paul Krugman’s Argument.:

» Tim Worstall, Krugman, and my two cents from Newmark's Door
Tim Worstall amusingly takes a needle to one of Paul Krugman's recent columns. My two cents: some people think Katrina will be bad for Republicans and for conservatives generally. We should have spent more money on levees! We should spend [Read More]

Tracked on Sep 8, 2005 11:05:19 AM

» Always More Government. Always. from QandO
Robert Solow said that everything reminds Milton Friedman of the money supply. Similarly, everything reminds me of Paul Krugman. See if you can spot the problem... [Read More]

Tracked on Sep 9, 2005 12:51:41 PM


Well, if you assume Krugman intends to staff an American NHS with failed horse-show administrators it is.

But, if you make that kind of assumption, you can prove anything. I could point to any number of examples of egregious corruption, stupidity and irresponsibility committed by the executives of private firms and accuse you of supporting, say, an Enron health system. You would probably say that was unfair.

In fact, if Katrina shows anything about government, bureaucracy and such, it's that the American government is not bureaucratic enough - they are still at the stage where key official appointments are made at the whim of the ruler, not from a professional civil service. Like the UK before Northcote-Trevelyan.

Traditionally, public employees' interests are meant to be aligned through concern for their careers in the service. If advancement (and indeed survival) are based on favouritism rather than rules, you've got big problems.

Tim adds: No, I wouldn’t say that such an action was unfair. I’d simply say that via bankruptcy we have a system for dealing with such. The pblic sector doesn’t have that feedback.

Posted by: Alex | Sep 5, 2005 10:15:01 AM

This is the logic according to how it plays in Krugman's subconscious:

The Federal bureaucracy when run by Republicans is incompetent. I therefore propose that the health system of the United States should be taken over by a federal bureaucracy which will be run by Democrats. And this system will not be incompetent, because the Democrats will be in charge. (Moreover, this is reason to ban the Republicans from office).

P.S. I agree with Tim's response above. Another problem with letting the government run things is that they can change the law to suit themselves.

Posted by: Scott Campbell at Blithering Bunny | Sep 5, 2005 10:56:05 AM

I think it's pretty central to Krugman's political philosophy that he regards the current administration as having been something of a statistical outlier in terms of competence and honesty, and I'm quite surprised that you haven't picked this up at some point.

Tim adds: What? We’re really saying that Bush is worse in honesty than Nixon? Harding? (It was him, Teapot Dome?). More incompetent than Carter?

Posted by: dsquared | Sep 5, 2005 11:00:48 AM

In the case of national emergency - there is a convincing case for wholescale effective government intervention. And it is a legitimate role of government to plan for that. If they don't plan, no-one else, certainly not the market, will intervene to save drowning and destroyed cities and their inhabitants. Its a public good that only a government - domestic or a nice foreign one - can sort out.

In the case of a health service - there are pros and cons of Federally run systems. Its a totally different question, and set of responses in my book.

Posted by: Angry Economist | Sep 5, 2005 11:51:39 AM


Surely the beauty of an Enron Health System, as you put it, is that if you are disgusted by the service or the conduct of the CEO you can always go to the Texaco Health System or the BP Health System instead.

When the Feds run the operation there ain't no alternative, at least not for the bulk of the citizenry. You get what Uncle Sam's bureaucratic gnomes decide to give you or nothing.

I know which system I'd choose.


Posted by: Remittance Man | Sep 5, 2005 11:59:34 AM

If The State would refrain from attempting the thousands of jobs that are beyond its abilities, it might be able to concentrate on doing well the few that we need it for. This N.O. shambles does seem to justify the arguments for a "nightwatchman state".

Posted by: dearieme | Sep 5, 2005 2:23:41 PM

RM - The Feds "run" parcel post (via the USPS) but every American is still entirely free to use FedEx, UPS, GOD, etc. Just like how Great Britain has private health insurance for those who wish to supplement NHS. Just like how you can augment your Social Security retirement funds with your own private investment and savings.

Posted by: Justus | Sep 5, 2005 5:40:53 PM


Thanks to 60 years of government brainwashing an excessive taxation very few people in the UK have private insurance. It's not a standard part of normal employment benefits.

Basically most Brits are trapped in the Soviet system. And if the current bunch of muppets have their way, the pension system will go the same way.

Believe me when I say be thankful you haven't ley your socialists stuff things up as badly as ours have.


Posted by: emittance Man | Sep 5, 2005 6:25:42 PM


The NHS now costs over £3000 per annum per family - and you have no choice about paying this. For most people this doesn't leave enough to augment (or replace) what the NHS offers.

In any case, the medical monopoly in the UK (comprising the BMA and Royal Colleges) which restricts the number of doctors and consultants and blackmails the NHS into paying way over the odds for their services, means that medical insurance costs in the UK are the highest in the world. No chance of choice for most people.

The thing people who point to companies like Enron as examples of corruption and bad practice in private industry forget is that Enron no longer exists - it went bust as a result as a result of mismanagement. How many public sector organisations have ever gone bust? Who picks up the tab when they're mismanaged? - that's right, the poor old taxpayer.

Posted by: HJHJ | Sep 5, 2005 8:04:29 PM

From a population of 60,000,000 approximately 7,000,000 have private medical insurance. I don't know that I'd call that "very few" but obviously there is room for disagreement over such vague terms.

The public usually picks up the tab when any large organization fails, regardless of whether it is public or private. At least, I don't remember the US standing by and doing nothing during the failures of Chrysler in the 80s, the airlines every year, the savings & loan industry in the 90s, or Long-Term Capital Management in 1998.

Posted by: Justus | Sep 5, 2005 11:54:35 PM