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February 03, 2006

Paul Krugman: State of Delusion.

Paul Krugman is, as ever, interesting. His latest column via Mark Thoma. The essential point? Bush is a dolt and he and his buddies have never achieved anything.

The unwritten addition is that if only the American public were clever enough, as clever, say, as a Yale Professor and winner of the John Bates Clark Gold Medal, then they would have elected the Democrats and we would indeed have paradise upon earth. For Democrats, you see, are perfect and unsullied, specifically not vulnerable to any of the perverse incentives, poltical pressures, institutional failings, that economists, like those who are Professors at Yale and winners of the John Bates Clark Gold Medal and very clever men, even those slightly (and possibly unfairly over-recognized) cleverer people who have gone on to win the Nobel Prize, oooh, people like John Buchanan for example, identify as what is wrong with the American body politic.

Actually, that’s something of a breakthrough for the Good Professor. Might get him that Nobel he so richly deserves. Rowing against the current, going against the grain of current accepted theory in a subject is the way to get noticed. If you’re right of course. You see, Paulie has it that institutions don’t matter. Only people do. So replace the Republicans with Democrats and everything with be just dandy.

Right on! Clenched fist salute! Must be true. Dan Rostenkowski, Fernand St. Germain, Tip O’ Neill, Ted Kennedy, all Republicans, right?


So President Bush's plan to reduce imports of Middle East oil turns out to be no more substantial than his plan — floated two years ago, then flushed down the memory hole — to send humans to Mars. But what did you expect? After five years in power, the Bush administration is still — perhaps more than ever — run by Mayberry Machiavellis, who don't take the business of governing seriously. ...

In the State of the Union address Mr. Bush suggested that "cutting-edge methods of producing ethanol" and other technologies would allow us "to replace more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East." But the next day, officials explained that he didn't really mean what he said. "This was purely an example," said Samuel Bodman, the energy secretary. And the administration has actually been scaling back the very research that Mr. Bush hyped Tuesday night...

Why announce impressive sounding goals when you have no plan to achieve them? The best guess is that the energy "plan" was hastily thrown together to give Mr. Bush something positive to say. For weeks administration sources told reporters that the State of the Union address would focus on health care. But at the last minute the White House might have realized that its health care proposals, based on the idea that Americans have too much insurance, would suffer the same political fate as its attempt to privatize Social Security. ("Congress," Mr. Bush said, "did not act last year on my proposal to save Social Security." Democrats responded with a standing ovation.)

So Mr. Bush's speechwriters were told to replace the health care proposals with fine words about energy independence, words not backed by any actual policy. What about the rest of the speech? The State of the Union is normally an occasion for boasting about an administration's achievements. But what's a speechwriter to do when there are no achievements?

One answer is to pretend that the bad stuff never happened. The Medicare drug benefit is Mr. Bush's largest domestic initiative to date. It's also a disaster ... So drugs went unmentioned in the State of the Union. Another answer is to rely on evasive language. In Iraq, said Mr. Bush, we've "changed our approach to reconstruction." In fact, reconstruction has failed. ... So now, having squandered billions ... America's would-be Marshall Plan in Iraq, reports The Los Angeles Times, "is drawing to a close this year with much of its promise unmet ..." I guess you can call that a change in approach.

There's a common theme underlying the botched reconstruction of Iraq, the botched response to Katrina (which Mr. Bush never mentioned), the botched drug program, and the nonexistent energy program. John DiIulio, the former White House head of faith-based policy, explained it more than three years ago. ... "There is no precedent in any modern White House for what is going on in this one: a complete lack of a policy apparatus. ... I heard many, many staff discussions but not three meaningful, substantive policy discussions. There were no actual policy white papers on domestic issues."

In other words, this administration is all politics and no policy. It knows how to attain power, but has no idea how to govern. That's why the administration was caught unaware when Katrina hit, and why it was totally unprepared for the predictable problems with its drug plan. It's why Mr. Bush announced an energy plan with no substance behind it. And it's why the state of the union — the thing itself, not the speech — is so grim.

February 3, 2006 in Economics | Permalink


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E. Frank Stephenson and Tim Worstall sharply criticize a fellow who may no longer be an economist but who plays one in the pages of the New York Times. (And Big Arm Woman pans a recent speech by him: I [Read More]

Tracked on Feb 10, 2006 10:55:26 AM


Tim, it appears that your polemic peroration is addressed to the stupidity of the position that is actually "unwritten" in Krugman and added by you. This is perilously close to talking to oneself.

The unwritten addition to your post is that it is OK to eat babies and I just can't accept that, no matter how delicious and crunchy they are.

Tim adds: Indeed, babbies, delish. Talking to myself? Why should Friday’s blogging be different?

Posted by: dsquared | Feb 3, 2006 1:05:46 PM

Furthermore, it's not as if we have to speculate about what Krugman thinks about Democratic governments because he was actually alive and writing in the Clinton years. While he was clearly less critical of them, it's just not true to say that he was an uncritical cheerleader in the Fox News mould.

Posted by: dsquared | Feb 3, 2006 1:08:51 PM

Eminent professor from Princeton. Do you mean James Buchanan?

Tim adds: Bugger. Did I make that Yale/Princeton mistake again? Krugman’s at one of those two and I always get them inverted. Buchanan’s at Virginia isn’t he? Or GMU?

Posted by: anon | Feb 3, 2006 1:51:28 PM

Well you never see many presidents and prime ministers who are or were economists... i wonder why?!

I quite like most of PK's books etc - quite well written, accessible, many salient and well made points, but it sounds like he has clearly taken up his job of newspaper columnist with gusto - i.e. truth, facts, evidence, reason, all go out the window! its bile and polemnic that rule the day!

Posted by: angry economist | Feb 3, 2006 2:00:56 PM

Would you prefer that a stupid economist wrote the article?


Posted by: james c | Feb 3, 2006 2:19:12 PM

As DD pointed out, you've just wasted several hundred words attacking something that doesn't exist.

Heavy night, was it?

Posted by: ajay | Feb 3, 2006 3:07:25 PM

notice that the otherwise insightful Anatole Kaletsky in an article about how the US succeeds despite its politicians, spent a whole paragrpah in the Times (can't find link) gratuitously insulting Geroge Bush. presumably it's part of editorial policy?

Posted by: Mark T | Feb 3, 2006 3:52:08 PM

Have to agree with angry here. I find krugman's book excellent - particularly 'pop internationalism' ... they're acessible but also have a lot to offer to us economists. But I'm not a fan of his columns. I understand his outrage at times, but a bit less hysteria would actually make him more efective.

Tim adds: Please don’t get me wrong. I praise some of his earlier writings incessantly ("Ricardo’s Difficult Idea" is a personal favourite).

Posted by: rjw | Feb 4, 2006 2:18:15 PM

Jim Buchanan, Nobel Prize 1986...

Posted by: EcoDude | Feb 10, 2006 5:21:57 PM