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"Wrong in a way that is characteristically Krugman"

I do a fair bit of Krugman-bashing, as do many other blogosphere pundits. But lest one think this is all based on dislike for Krugman's liberal ideology, try this quote, from the liberal American Prospect's 1996 piece on Krugman:

A fine example of how Krugman's intuitive solidarity with fellow economists leads him to get the story backwards concerns the Clinton health plan. For Krugman, it is a travesty that non-economist industrial policy advocates such as Reich and Magaziner landed key policy positions in the Clinton administration. Thus predisposed to dislike Magaziner, Krugman recounts this anecdote:
If you had asked most people in the field to list the leading experts on the economics of health care, almost all of them would have mentioned Henry Aaron of the Brookings Institution, an economist with solid liberal credentials and a strong backer of Clinton during the election. But when the Clinton administration formed its health care task force, a huge effort involving more than five hundred people, Aaron was not involved. Why? The answer appeared to involve a kind of guilt by association. The task force was headed by Ira Magaziner, a business consultant by profession but a strategic trader by inclination. . . . Now, in the great confrontation over industrial policy in 1983 and 1984, economists from Brookings had been highly critical of strategic traders in general and Magaziner in particular. It was not too surprising that Magaziner would exclude a Brookings economist from his deliberations, or even that he would, as appeared to have been the case, have excluded virtually anyone with prior background in health care economics.
Note that this little anecdote, rendered in complex subjunctives, is all inference and surmise, as opposed to reporting. (We journalists may not be too great at running regressions, but we do try to find out what actually took place.) In fact, the Clinton task force did include several health economists, including Professor David Cutler of Harvard. More to the point, Henry Aaron did participate in health policy discussions, both during the campaign and the transition, and made clear his preference for controlling health costs directly via a cap on hospital revenues, rather than with the "managed competition" approach of the Clinton group. Ironically, the Clinton task force was partial to a more "marketlike" approach, which built heavily on the work of the noted health economist Alain Enthoven. Aaron also recalls the notable chilling effect of his December 1992 New York Times op-ed piece, describing as "fantasy" the Clintons' claim that cost savings from managed competition would be enough to buy coverage for the uninsured. So the Clinton group and Aaron could not get together because the Clinton model was too much like textbook economics to suit Aaron, while Aaron, despite the Brookings connection, was proposing a form of direct price regulation. Krugman's little story is not just wrong, but wrong in a way that is characteristically Krugman. The only guilt by association is Krugman's own premise-reported as fact-that Magaziner would naturally "exclude a Brookings economist."
Emphasis added. Doesn't the highlighted portion capture so perfectly what is wrong with, and infuriating about, Krugman as a columnist? Rather than find out the facts in any given situation, he simply invents scenarios that fit his worldview, and reports them as if they were established truth. "The answer appeared to involve a kind of guilt by association." And said scenarios are often, well, silly -- as the above example illustrates. Extremely reminiscent of the most recent Krugman invention of a conspiracy wherein the Bush administration somehow pressured CNN into falsely admitting error to cover up White House shenanigans. (And then following up by blaming CNN because Krugman didn't believe its own admission of error.) Obviously a columnist is not a reporter, and isn't necessarily expected to do extensive original reporting before commenting on an issue. But he's not supposed to make stuff up, either.


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Comments (1)

Stan Musial:

"Rather than find out the facts in any given situation, he simply invents scenarios that fit his worldview, and reports them as if they were established truth."

Hmm - in that respect, one would say that he would be the ideal commentator to critique the Bush Administration, since that is precisely the basis for how Bush functions.


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