Tuesday, June 11, 2002

Well, another Krugman column has come out, and the usual echo chamber response appears near instantaneously once again. Instapundit was right about one thing: bloggers are indeed fast. The question of accuracy, however, remains to be answered.

So, what was Krugman's latest column about? Bush and Trade policy, mostly. Most commentators I've read have noticed that Bush's record isn't exactly spotless (or even especially good) on these issues, and Krugman is hardly the first that has pillioried the administration for it. It's barely in question, so how does Ms. Galt respond and retain her anti-Krugman "blog cred"? By bringing up Bush's proposals for privatizing social security, the education bill, and, um, the war.

Yes, the war.

Somehow, the war on terrorism is the reason why Bush has had a dismal record when it comes to trade policy. I mean, it's not like incredibly domestic issues like social security and education have much to do with trade policy, and that's pretty obviously a case of evasion-through-non-sequiter...but the war? I knew that there were warbloggers that saw the world through that particular lens, but I had thought Jane would know better, with her MBA and numbers and graphs and all. Well, at least in that other post... this one doesn't seem to really have much to do with economics.

She then appears to attack Paul for being unpopular:

Except that we're appalled that Krugman is trying to imply that the entire field of economists is on his side against the Evil Bush Administration, while the economists I know are not only not with Krugman in his odd fight; they think he's laughable.

This is a fairly common assertion on Jane's part- that Krugman is an embarassment to the entire field. I do wonder whether a case of observer bias might be present here, but I'll have to take her word for it, as I haven't seen much in the way of citation of negative responses to Krugman's work outside of, maybe, the parts of the Blogosphere who would probably hate him anyway. In any case, it's entirely incidental to any critique of the actual column, so I'll simply let it be. If any economists wish to let me know about their position on Krugman's column, though, by all means go ahead. I'm especially interested in more liberal economists; the reaction of doctrinaire Objectivists I can predict without the necessity of confirmation. Besides, after too much exposure to the blogosphere, I'm starting to wonder if liberal economists exist.

One of the main points of Prof. Krugman's column, however, was a comparison of the Clinton administration and the Bush administration when it comes to trade policy. Again, most of the commentators I've read have been fairly complimentary on Clinton's record and critical of Bush's, yet Jane seems to be contradictory here, at one minute saying:

A-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha...He tried to contrast the power-hungry Bush White House, willing to do anything for political advantage, with the idealistic naifs at the Clinton Administration whose guiding principles were Truth, Justice, and the American Way.

and then later saying

Whenever anyone has asked me what I liked about Bill Clinton, I've always said NAFTA and Welfare Reform. I mean, I'm under the impression that he had those things forced on him by a Republican congress, but I'm glad he signed them.

this contradiction makes sense, even if it betrays a very odd perception of the dynamics of the time (I don't remember Clinton being especially anti-trade at any point... he may have backslid occasionally, but by and large his record seemed really good, which was part of the reason he enraged protectionists so much). Why does it make sense? Because, for some reason, as we've seen above, Jane seems to think that a column on trade policy must be about every aspect of his economic record!

How else to explain the Bush defenses I mentioned earlier, and parts like this:

However, I did not appreciate Bill Clinton's idealism in the form of thinking he could nationalize 1/8 of the economy into an enormous, sucking bureacracy. If there's one thing I think that the world doesn't need, it's more government agencies.

This is a point of ideology, obviously, and doesn't seem to fit Bill's performance after '94, but the more important question is what the hell it has to do with a discussion of Bill vs. George on trade? Practically all the arguments that Jane made against Bill and in favour of George were about issues other than trade, and seemed to mistake the point of Prof. Krugman's column. She laughed at the idea that the Clinton administration was more "moral"... but obviously was basing that on everything but trade. She argued that Bush had better economic credentials, and based it on everything but trade. She laughed at Krugman's assertion of Clinton's "economic idealism"... yet based it on everything but trade (and a "record breaking farm bill" that she neither cites, nor even names, thus neatly avoiding any possibility of comparison of the two... and had already excused the presidency from having any impact over farm bills earlier in the entry).

After a bit more Clinton bashing (although this was actually valid; criticizing Bush on subsidizing non-carbon energy sources and leaving Clinton alone and veering off the trade question was a bad move on Prof. Krugman's part), she gets to her big finish:

Krugman could have written an interesting column -- one that rightly indicted the Bush administration for protectionism -- about the way that swing politics has shaped the political landscape. The only major accomplishments of Clinton's Presidency, after all, were conservative pet causes: NAFTA and Welfare Reform. (If you have other major accomplishments you think I've neglected, feel free to name them. But I don't want to hear about how his lack of major items is the Republicans fault. First of all, Presidents rarely accomplish anything major after their first term, and second of all, it's an insanely boring and pointless argument. The Dems would have done it if they could. Washington is a swamp.) Bush seems hamstrung on economic policy, even though he has some decent free market credentials. What's going on here?

I'm inclined to agree, Jane, at least about this particular concept. (Certainly not on the idea that those were the only two accomplishments of the Clinton administration, and trying to explain away Republican intransigence by saying "everybody does it" is a rightist canard that nobody outside of that community actually believes).
Jane could have written a much better critique, as there are holes in Prof. Krugman's argument. Clinton does indeed have a mixed record... as Krugman was careful to point out in several of his books and in his old Slate column, the "strategic traders" that Clinton had in his inner circle were basing policy advice on economically dubious or nonsensical ideas. (Those "policy entrepreneurs" I mentioned in earlier posts.) He should have pointed that out in order to show that there's no reason to believe that any administration is going to stay entirely "on message", and they shouldn't be characterized as such. Jane could have ripped Krugman a new orifice for this glaring inconsistency in the subject that he was actually talking about (trade policy).

Yet, instead, we get social security, education, that silly "Clinton moral? hah!" bit, a mythical farm bill that Clinton should be blamed for (despite her giving a pass to Bush for the same), complaining about government (unless it's Bush's pet project, or the aforementioned education system), and a smidgen of valid critiques of Clinton's energy policy. And yet, at the end, she seems to agree with Prof. Krugman on Bush's sorry trade record, rendering the whole entry somewhat contradictory in-and-of itself.

This has nothing to do with economics (although I'd still love to hear from other economists on how they feel about Krugman's columns). This just doesn't make sense from a logical standpoint, and stands in shocking contrast to some of her other entries, including her response to my earlier entry. Why range all over the map when the answers you need are right in front of your face?

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