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Big Black Lies
Krugman is warped on the matter of Social Security reform and African Americans.


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Donald L. Luskin

Look up the word “vile” in the dictionary and you will find an appropriate description of Paul Krugman’s New York Times column from last Friday.

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In the column, America’s most dangerous liberal pundit throws a gutter accusation of “bigotry” at President Bush — yes, the man who just appointed his female African American national security advisor as the successor to his African American secretary of State.

Why, in Krugman’s mind, is Bush a bigot? Because the president is seeking to reform Social Security with personal accounts — which, by the way, is the same reform being argued for by Harold Ford, the African American Democratic congressman from Tennessee. In Ford’s words, the existing system “provides a measure of security for retirees, but it cannot be passed on to provide financial security for their children and grandchildren. The key to retirement security and upward social mobility is wealth creation.”

How does wanting the same thing that Rep. Ford wants make President Bush a bigot? Be patient — you’ll see.

Krugman quotes Bush saying that “African-American males die sooner than other males do, which means the system is inherently unfair to a certain group of people.” Krugman says Bush made this statement “[t]his week, in a closed meeting with African-Americans.” Krugman is wrong: Bush made this statement on January 11 in an open meeting with Americans of all races. And Bush is right — according to the National Center for Health Statistics, at age 65 the median African American male lives 14.6 more years, compared with 16.6 more years for whites. That means African Americans have 2 fewer years to collect their Social Security benefits than whites do, even though they pay the same amount of taxes during their working lives.

Personal accounts will make Social Security more fair for African Americans because, at death, the value in those accounts will be allowed to be passed on to loved ones — not just plowed back into the system, as is the case today. But Krugman says Bush is bigoted for wanting to redress that injustice. In Krugman’s mind, Bush is treating “premature black deaths not as a tragedy we must end but as just another way to push [his] ideological agenda.”

It must have been irresistible for Krugman to plagiarize the crude race-card gotcha that was conceived almost three weeks ago by the Democratic National Committee and play it on the op-ed pages of America’s supposed “newspaper of record.” It certainly must have been easier than coming up with original material. But accusations of bigotry are dangerous weapons — and this specific accusation is a sword that cuts both ways.

Krugman’s position is extremely confused. He is taking the position that Social Security reforms that make the system fairer for African Americans must be opposed because President Bush hasn’t waved his magic wand and bestowed upon African Americans the same statistical life expectancy as whites. Even if such a thing were in Bush’s power and Bush refused to do it — and even if his refusal to do so was based on bigotry — it is still indefensible to oppose reforming the unfairness in the current Social Security system.

It is Krugman — not Bush — who diminishes the importance of the shorter life expectancy of African Americans. Krugman waves it away, almost casually, saying that 14.6 years of life expectancy at 65 for African American males is “not that far short of the 16.6-year figure for white men.” Those 2 fewer years of life may not mean much to Krugman, but I’ll bet they sure do to African American men and their families. As Krugman Truth Squad member Sylvain Galineau quipped on my blog, perhaps the diminutive pundit would “get it if we put the debate in terms he understands; so let’s assume that Social Security benefits are based on height.”

Truth Squad member Matthew Schiros, on his Radio Free Roider blog, finds this Krugman position equally disturbing: Krugman argues that Social Security

provides more benefits, as a percentage of earnings, to low-income workers than to high-income workers. Since African-Americans are paid much less, on average, than whites, this works to their advantage.

Finally, Social Security isn’t just a retirement program; it’s also a disability insurance program. And blacks are much more likely than whites to receive disability benefits.

In other words, in Krugman’s mind, African Americans may die earlier than whites, but they make up for it by being poor and disabled. This is not quite a burning cross on the front lawn, but it’s not exactly an enlightened philosophy of racial justice, either.

Krugman attempts to support his insupportable positions with his patented abuse of statistics. Krugman writes, “Blacks’ low life expectancy is largely due to high death rates in childhood and young adulthood” — the point being that during their working lives and retirements their life expectancies are much like those of whites. But Krugman Truth Squad member Jim Glass points out on his Scrivener.net blog that this is a flat-out lie. According to the National Center for Health Statistics,

We find that black males right in the middle of a working life, age 40, have a 30% chance of dying by age 65. (The corresponding chance for white males is 17%.) … Black males alive at age 5 have only a 3% chance of dying within the next 25 years of their childhood and young adulthood, by age 30. (For white males the figure is 1.9%.)

So their death rate during their past-age 40 working years is 10 times higher than “the high death rates in childhood and young adulthood” Krugman ascribes to them. And the risk that a black male age 40 will die before reaching the Social Security retirement age of 65 — after paying most of working life payroll taxes, but still too young to recover any of them — is 10 times higher than the risk that one will die as a child or young adult age 5 to 30. (And 77% higher than the risk that a white male age 40 will die by age 65.)

(For even more data on the matter of African Americans and Social Security, the Heritage Foundation has prepared a detailed factual rebuttal to Krugman’s column. I highly recommend it for those who want to understand the issue in depth.)

But let’s set all the statistics aside and get back to the real issue here — the issue that Rep. Ford focused on: “The key to retirement security and upward social mobility is wealth creation.” That, indeed, is the core philosophy underlying President Bush’s initiative to reform Social Security with personal accounts — it’s the heart of his vision of an “ownership society.” To Krugman, however, that vision is nothing. As he wrote in a Times column last year, “I thought all Americans have a vital stake in the nation’s future, regardless of how much property they own.”

Spoken like a white professor at an Ivy League college, a columnist for the New York Times, a best-selling author, and a man who lives in a $3 million, 6,000-square-foot home in Princeton with a four-car garage, music room, library, and greenhouse.

George Bush is no bigot. He just wants African Americans to have a shot at someday having that kind of “vital stake in the nation’s future.” Why is it that Paul Krugman doesn’t?

– Donald Luskin is chief investment officer of Trend Macrolytics LLC, an independent economics and investment-research firm. He welcomes your visit to his blog and your comments at [email protected].



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