Politics & Policy

Paul Krugman Is Only an Expert at Selective Fault-Finding

Economist Paul Krugman in 2012 (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)
It has been many years since Krugman was a man of nuance, but many of his recent takes have been especially simplistic.

This Monday, Paul Krugman published an opinion piece in the New York Times titled “America Drank Away Its Children’s Future,” about America’s coronavirus response. This is just the latest in Krugman’s ongoing series of attacks against his political enemies, which includes such prudent and measured articles as “The Deadly Delusions of Mad King Donald,” “World War C,” “A Plague of Willful Ignorance,” and “America Didn’t Give Up on COVID-19. Republicans Did.”

It has been many years since Krugman was a man of nuance, but many of his recent takes have been especially simplistic. For instance, take Krugman’s pandemic finger-pointing: “The Northeast, with its largely Democratic governors, has been appropriately cautious about reopening . . . the really bad news is coming from Republican-controlled states, especially Arizona, Florida and Texas, which rushed to reopen and, while some are now pausing, haven’t reversed course.” Consider, also: “We don’t have the kind of leaders we need. Instead, we have the likes of Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis, Florida’s governor, politicians who refuse to listen to experts and never admit having been wrong.”

There’s a lot to unpack here. First of all, why the dishonest, selective outrage? Of the eleven states with by far the highest coronavirus death rates to date, nine have Democratic governors. The two exceptions are Massachusetts, with Charlie Baker, and Maryland, with Larry Hogan, who are to the left of some liberals (especially Baker). And of the 21 states with the lowest death rates, 18 are red (based on the 2016 election results). Krugman is absolutely crickets on this tale of two countries. One can picture him in a warm field on an August evening singing his gryllid heart out as someone reads off Worldometer that the states hardest hit by COVID-19 are managed by his party. This isn’t to say that Krugman is unjustly criticizing the Right for jumping the gun on reopening, or unjustly criticizing the Trump administration’s coronavirus response; the data may very well bear out such criticisms. But Krugman’s partisanship, his blindness in only criticizing one side, and his insistence on political games while we should be coming together to improve the health of the nation, are staggering.

“Okay,” you might say, “Krugman’s outrage may be selective, but it should be. After all, Democrats are disproportionately in metropolitan areas, so of course they would have more deaths. Krugman should give them a pass.” But Democrats knew they were in metropolitan areas at the start of the pandemic. They could have surmised that the pandemic would ravage them, barring competent leadership and policies, in a way it wouldn’t ravage the ranches of Montana. The fact that they didn’t take far more stringent measures in early 2020 than rural Republicans to prevent the spread of the virus is their failure. But Krugman is allergic to admitting it.

And on the other hand, that red states are now much farther into reopening than their blue counterparts — perhaps this is, dare I say . . . understandable? Krugman acts like the entire nation is just an extended Manhattan, that Kentucky is at fault for not perfectly emulating de Blasio’s guidelines. The reality is that the U.S.A. is an incredibly diverse country. Part of living in a metropolitan area is accepting that you will be at greater danger of infection — and thus in more need of caution — than those in rural areas. The discrepancy is marked: Even Arizona, the most prominent example of hasty reopening under a Republican governor, is at 300 deaths per million — a rate one-fifth of New York’s and New Jersey’s. And to date, Florida, even with its widely covered overflow of ICUs, has had 4,400 coronavirus deaths, even as Andrew Cuomo–led New York, of a comparable population, has had over 6,200 deaths in nursing homes alone (32,000 deaths in total). To be sure, Republican-controlled states such as Arizona and Florida are now beginning to see significant rises both in deaths and cases — a fact disguised by the mere examination of cumulative statistics. But the lethality of the virus in these places still isn’t comparable to how it was in, say, the New York of April. (Of course, back then, it was conveniently not Democratic governors to blame for the prevalence of the virus in blue states, according to Krugman, but instead the Trump administration.)

So perhaps a hand-waving, one-size-fits-all, nationalized approach to the virus is not appropriate. COVID presents more danger to some regions of the country than to others. Then, contra Krugman, Republican voters are not mindless zombies “presumably taking their cue from the White House and Fox News” on reopening (though they are sure to note Krugman’s patronizing tone and to keep it in mind at the ballot box this November). Rather, these voters often have their own valid reasons for wanting to reopen their communities, which tend to be safer to reopen than, say, Seattle or Philadelphia: jobs, income, mental health, access to religious services, quality of education, quality of social life, etc. But even focusing solely on the coronavirus at the expense of these factors, it is rank intellectual dishonesty not to acknowledge the role that Democrats such as Andrew Cuomo have played in the virus’s spread and fatality — most egregiously, by allowing COVID-19 patients to be admitted to nursing homes fresh from the hospital.

It should come as no surprise that Krugman falls short in politics and public health. Even in economics, his supposed area of expertise, the good doctor has been pitifully wrong through the years. In 1998, he predicted that by 2005 the Internet’s impact on the economy would prove “no greater than the fax machine’s.” He also predicted a rapid end to the Great Recession, deflation in the years following 2010, dire consequences from the sequester of 2013, the death of the euro, the crash of the world economy from Trump’s election, and positive economic consequences from Trump’s impeachment. None of these came true. True, Krugman has admitted the inaccuracy of many of his predictions. But, far from being discouraged, the man continues to put forth his biweekly partisan tirades, arrogantly dismissing large numbers of Americans as stupid all the while. One can only wonder what fantastical headline will come next out of Krugman’s quill.