The Corner

Krugmanomics

In the matter of Paul Krugman (see my posting below about today’s Uncommon Knowledge shoot), I found him disconcertingly warm, funny, and friendly–so disconcertingly so that I found myself recalling a story Pat Buchanan told me when I was a college intern for Buchanan a quarter of a century ago.

When he himself was a young journalist, Pat explained, he got a job writing for the editorial page of the St. Louis Post Dispatch, and one day he composed an editorial excoriating a local politico. After work, Pat went to a local saloon, pulled up a stool at the bar, and began chatting with the man seated next to him. It quickly emerged a) that the man was one of the nicest guys Pat had ever met, and b) that he was the politico Pat had just attacked. For days afterwards, Pat regretted that editorial.

“You know the lesson I learned?” Pat asked me. “Never have a drink with an enemy.”

No, and never spend a quarter of an hour chatting with an enemy in a television studio while the technicians adjust the lights, either.

Once the show got under way, Krugman’s arguments struck me as odd, inasmuch as he was at pains to contend that presidents don’t matter very much. The boom of the Reagan years? Merely the playing out of the business cycle. The boom of the Clinton years? Clinton’s economic policies were disciplined and admirable, but when it came right down to it the business cycle had a lot to do with the boom of the Clinton years, too. (Robert Barro, incidentally, would have none of this, insisting instead that Reagan’s tax cuts proved critical, and that Clinton’s principal economic achievement lay in keeping out of the economy’s way.) Krugman even argued that since the economy boomed when Reagan cut taxes and boomed again when Clinton raised them, the tax rate on high income individuals doesn’t make all that much difference. George W. Bush? Krugman attacked his fiscal policies roundly–then argued that the current recovery merely represents, once again, the workings of the business cycle, which Bush is impotent to affect.

Exasperated, toward the end of the taping I asked Krugman why, if Bush’s policies had so little effect on the economy, Krugman devoted so much energy in the New York Times to denouncing them. His reply?

“Because I don’t like to be lied to.”

As soon as we get this program transcribed and up on the Uncommon Knowledge website, I’ll post a link so that readers can form their own opinion of this exchange. But my own view? Brilliant economist he may be, but Paul Krugman’s professional credentials evidently have very little to do with what he propounds. He is simply one more in the legion of liberals so unnerved by George W. Bush that they’ve somehow convinced themselves our plainspoken chief executive doesn’t mean what he says.