Paul Krugman: Martyr

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I must admit that Paul Krugman has become a wonderful foil for me, as he continues to spin out economic fallacies that I like to counter in print. (Or am I a foil for him, as some readers insist?) However, having read an article about him that tells of the many hardships he has experienced since becoming a New York Times columnist, I have concluded that Krugman has become a martyr for his cause (which is not as noble as he might have us believe).

Now, I don’t expect Krugman to become the kind of "martyr" who hijacks airliners and flies them into buildings full of people, nor do I think he will be making an appearance soon on the floor of the Roman Coliseum, facing down those hungry lions the same way he stares down all those Bushies. No, Krugman is a martyr in his own mind.

Krugman, it seems, receives nasty letters for his attacks on George W. Bush, according to a recent Guardian interview, and even gets some death threats over email. Such fanaticism on behalf of people who don’t like what Krugman has to say is over the top, but that is something with which anyone who becomes a public figure must deal. Nor is Krugman the only person to receive such threats; I know others who receive emailed death threats for taking points of view relative to economics that do not square with those of Krugman, so it is not just the right-wingers who say mean and nasty things. (And while I have not received death threats, I have been on the receiving end of some pretty vicious emails — something I have come to accept as coming with the territory.)

Besides, Krugman and others of his kind have the New York Times as their own weapon if they wish to smear people. For example, the "journalists" who call the Southern Poverty Law Center for the latest smears and lies describing some people I know are in many ways worse than the people who email death threats to Paul Krugman. That is because certain groups of people can hide behind the "respectability" of the SPLC and the Times to spread lies and innuendo about good people.

(For the record, a number of people who either have been smeared directly or who belong to organizations that the SPLC and the Times have labeled "hate groups" and racists are the same people who strongly supported the choice of my wife and me to adopt children from Ethiopia and Guatemala. I also was a featured speaker at a meeting of a Sons of Confederate Veterans chapter in South Carolina — another group the Times and SPLC describe as racist and full of hate mongers — and did not encounter the same kind of small mindedness that regularly stalks the halls of "hallowed" universities like Princeton, Krugman’s current place of employment.)

Now, back to St. Paul the Martyr. Simply because he receives hate mail and death threats does not mean that Krugman is saying something that is correct, as many of his media supporters seem to believe. If anything, it is Krugman who is preaching the worst kind of violence — the violence perpetrated upon individuals by the state. In Krugman’s view, as he has stated many times in his column, we need a state that regulates all economic activity and that has the power to separate individuals from most of their income (against their will). The ideal Krugman government is one that tells people what kind of car they can drive, picks out their doctors and generally makes all medical decisions for them, and generally runs their lives — with all of these things being carried out either by direct violent means or through the implication of violence.

According to St. Paul the Martyr, the current troubles in California began in 1978 when Californians voted for the famous (or infamous, in the words of St. Paul) Proposition 13, which limited property tax rates. Krugman has stated on more than one occasion that because Prop 13 held down property taxes, no longer could Californians fund a good public school system, and from there, everything else went downhill. Of course, he does not dwell on the high income tax rates or the very high sales tax rates, and all of the other ways that the government of California strips money away from individuals. No, this "distinguished" economist declares that if only California had higher property taxes, then everything else would be right with the Golden State.

Likewise, he manages to "stay on message" (proving he is nothing more than a Democratic political operative) with his relentless pounding away at the modest, back-loaded tax cuts pushed through in 2001 by the Bush Administration. To read his column, one would come to believe that the sole reason that the U.S. economy is in sad shape is because the Bushies aren’t directly confiscating enough income taxes.

Any competent economist (and I do not include St. Paul the Martyr in this list) would recognize that the so-called budget surplus came about because of one of the worst financial bubbles in U.S. history. The easy credit policies of the Federal Reserve System, pushed through in part to help the political fortunes of an embattled President Bill Clinton, ultimately led to the hideous stock market bubbles (and especially in the NASDAQ exchange), which temporarily jacked up capital gains taxes and income taxes for some people. In other words, the government basically was recycling the inflation — and it seemed to work, as bubbles always give the illusion of real prosperity, at least for a while.

When the bubble burst, it was inevitable that the massive malinvestments would be exposed, which is what happened. St. Paul the Martyr, however, insists that the bubble was a minor detail, and that the real economic problem is that the tax collector cannot shake down people quite as vigorously as before.

Now, I don’t disagree with everything that St. Paul the Martyr writes. The war in Iraq is a disaster, both morally and fiscally. The current administration is unscrupulous and dishonest, as Krugman alleges, but it seems these days that every presidential administration is unscrupulous and dishonest and that if the Democrats take back the White House next year, they will replace this unscrupulous and dishonest administration with another one that is unscrupulous and dishonest.

I’d like to say this is the last thing I will write about St. Paul the Martyr, at least for awhile, as there other things to do. However, the man does write in his column twice weekly and he has a wide audience, so it is hard not to resist answering his statist nonsense. And as long as St. Paul continues to preach the Gospel of the State, someone else needs to remind him and everyone else that the Great Martyr actually is a heretic.

September 22, 2003

William L. Anderson, Ph.D. [send him mail], teaches economics at Frostburg State University in Maryland, and is an adjunct scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute.

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