Politics & Policy

A Little Man Takes On Wal-Mart

Krugman is paid to play his baseless leftist games.

Who was it that said that the measure of a man is what he worries about? President Bush is a big man who worries about big things like protecting America from global terrorism. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman — Bush’s most vicious media opponent and America’s looniest liberal pundit — is a little man who worries about little things, such as whether conservative pundits are being paid too much by lobbyists, and whether retail workers are being paid too little by Wal-Mart.

In his column Monday [subscription link via New York Times; free link via CREW], Krugman excoriates conservative think-tank scholars Peter Ferrara and Doug Bandow for taking money from indicted Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, allegedly in exchange for writing op-ed columns favorable to Abramoff’s clients. Yes, the immediate intuition is that these men’s ethics were compromised here. But, really, this is a little issue. Where’s the beef? Everyone — think-tankers, op-ed writers, etc. — gets paid by someone. And those who pay, naturally, choose to pay scholars and journalists who tend to already agree with them. It seems unlikely, then, that Ferrara or Bandow would have written anything different whether or not Abramoff paid them.

Krugman himself is no different than Bandow or Ferrara. They are scholars at think tanks, and Krugman is a scholar at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. And Krugman, too, gets paid by other people who rely on him to promote their viewpoints. First and foremost: that powerful liberal lobbying machine known as the New York Times. Since Krugman’s Times column began in 2000, has he ever — even once! — taken a position substantively different from that of the ultra-left-leaning Times editorial board, the folks who write his extracurricular checks?

Krugman has taken other extra-curricular paychecks over the years, and he has always promoted the points of view of whomever wrote those checks. He took Enron’s money as a consultant on its advisory board, and, while on the payroll, wrote a glowing column about Enron for Fortune. To be fair, he disclosed the connection then. At the time, Enron was riding high and Krugman was proud to take the corrupt company’s money. But he failed to mention the connection later — after the company failed and had to stop paying him — in dozens of New York Times columns lambasting the Bush administration for its past Enron connections. Most egregiously, he failed to mention his previous role as an Enron consultant in a Times column lambasting Enron’s consultants!

And when Krugman wrote a Times column justifying the anti-Semitic ravings of Malaysia’s premier Mahathir — the Times tagged that Krugman column “Anti-Semitism with a purpose” — he failed to mention that he had once been Mahathir’s guest at a Malaysian economics conference and had contributed to Malaysia’s economic policies.

But where’s the beef? Krugman may well have written the same things even if he hadn’t taken Enron’s money or accepted Mahathir’s hospitality. Indeed, one suspects that Krugman would proudly recycle in his columns all the same talking points he finds on the Democratic National Committee’s website and all the ultra-leftist hateblogs, even if he had to dip into his own pocket and pay himself.

Consider Krugman’s column on Wal-Mart last week [subscription link via New York Times; free link via ReclaimDemocracy]. Krugman doesn’t find anything corrupt about the “union-supported group, Wake Up Wal-Mart” that has run television ads demonizing the non-union retail giant. Would Wake Up Wal-Mart have run those ads anyway, without union money? Probably not, but Krugman would likely have written the same column, in which he makes the absurd claim that Wal-Mart — by far America’s largest employer — destroys jobs. He even goes so far as to call Wal-Mart’s claims to the contrary “the worst economic argument of 2005.” Considering some of the loony economic arguments Krugman himself has made this year, that’s quite a claim.

Who’s paying Krugman to make such claims other than the New York Times? No one that I’m aware of, at least not directly. But unions supply a large fraction of the filthy lucre that fills the war chest of the Democratic party. So, naturally, Krugman will take up their cause — however absurd, and however hypocritical. Back in 1993, when Krugman used to write as an economist, not a political hack, he called Wal-Mart “the most significant American business success story of the late 20th century,” celebrating its application of “extensive computerization and a home-grown version of Japan’s ‘just in time’ inventory methods to revolutionize retailing.”

To back up his claims that Wal-Mart destroys jobs, Krugman cites the “sophisticated statistical analysis” in a paper by a University of California professor and two associates at the Public Policy Institute of California. But that paper only claims that Wal-Mart causes a drop in retail employment when it opens a store in a new community. Overall, it finds “there is some evidence that Wal-Mart stores increase total employment on the order of two percent.”

A study by Global Insight goes further, but Krugman doesn’t mention it. It says that Wal-Mart is “responsible for 210,000 net jobs, a level of total factor productivity (general economic efficiency of the economy) that is 0.75% higher by 2004 than it would have been” and that “real disposable income is 0.9% higher than it would have been in a world without Wal-Mart.” Why Krugman’s silence on this study? The unions wouldn’t be happy if he mentioned it.

Other liberal economists aren’t so concerned with flattering the Democratic party’s paymaster. Jason Furman, a scholar at New York University (yes, he too, has another patron — the leftist Center for Budget Policy and Priorities), recently wrote a paper on Wal-Mart. Krugman once wrote that Furman’s work at CBPP is “absolutely impeccable; there is nothing at all like it on the right, or anywhere else.” Surely Krugman would not say the same thing about Furman’s statement that “Wal-Mart is a progressive success story … resulting in huge benefits for the American middle class and even proportionately larger benefits for moderate-income Americans.”

And speaking of getting paid by the unions, it’s probably not an entirely inexplicable omission that Krugman didn’t mention the recent Zogby poll that “found that 56 percent of American adults agreed with the statement — ‘Wal-Mart was bad for America.’” That’s possibly because Krugman didn’t want to deal with the fact that Zogby was paid by union-backed Wake Up Wal-Mart to do the poll (and John Zogby himself has been paid in the past to appear as an expert witness on behalf of plaintiffs suing Wal-Mart). The Pew Foundation, presumably not on the take from the unions, just found in a similar poll that 64 percent of Americans believe Wal-Mart is “Good … For the country.”

By the way, perhaps this is a good time to mention that I don’t get paid a penny for writing the Krugman Truth Squad column here at National Review Online. Not by NRO, not by Jack Abramoff, not by anybody. Why do I do it? Because, like President Bush, I’m worried about the big things. And one of the best ways I can help with the big things is by keeping the little things — like Paul Krugman — cut down to size.

– 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 don@trendmacro.com.

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