Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Krugman: If you don’t like the mandate, why not support single payer?

Bill Gardner at The Incidental Economist offers a rather decorous, mild reply to the people making [the argument that guaranteed health insurance is an assault on America’s freedom]. I’d put it more forcefully: the pre-ACA system drastically restricted many people’s freedom, because given the extreme dysfunctionality of the individual insurance market, they didn’t dare leave jobs (or in some cases marriages) that came with health insurance. Now that affordable insurance is available even if you don’t have a good job at a big company, many Americans will feel liberated — and this hugely outweighs the minor infringement on freedom caused by the requirement that people buy insurance. (Also, if you don’t like the mandate, why not support single payer?)

— Paul Krugman, Insurance and Freedom, NYTimes.com, today

I’ve said now here at AB too many times to count, but most recently five days ago, that the highlighting of Obamacare horror stories–real or fabricated–is really an argument for single payer. Every single horror-story problem–real, fabricated, or predicted down the road–would be cured by single payer.  But, to my knowledge, no one else was writing this in print for public consumption.  Now, Paul Krugman has done that.

But why aren’t the Dems pointing out that what the Repubs appear to actually be complaining about is the absence of a public option, or that the ACA didn’t establish single payer?  Maybe sometime before the election, they will–if others who have a wide readership make the point, as Krugman did there.

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Scott Brown Comes Out for a New Hampshire State Healthcare-Insurance Public Option. In the Name of Freedom. Cool!**

[Annotation added below.]

I’ve written here on AB, extensively now, about the invidious co-opting of the word “freedom” by the political far-right.  I’ve addressed this mainly in the context of the conservative Supreme Court justices’ neat trick of disconnecting the word from any relation to actual physical freedom as long as it is a state court (in criminal cases and in a variety of civil cases, e,g. adult-guardianship and conservatorship cases, as well) or a state or county prosecutor’s office rather than the federal government that violates federal constitutional rights in order to remove physical freedom.  This is done in the name of federalism as allegedly envisioned by James Madison.

And on Saturday, I addressed it in the context of the Cliven Bundy matter, which includes the support he’s received from the likes of Nevada Senator Dean Heller.  The immediate occasion for that post was to note that this bizarre appropriation of the word “freedom” to justify doing whatever the invoker of “freedom” wants to do–which, for the Supreme Court’s invokers, includes obsessively requiring that state courts, but not state legislatures, be entitled as “sovereigns” to violate individuals’ federal constitutional rights; I really can’t stress this enough–is finally, thanks to Bundy, being recognized by actual professional pundits. Specifically, by New York Times columnist Gail Collins in her Saturday column.  Paul Krugman used his bi-weekly Times column this morning to highlight it.

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Paul Ryan and Scott Walker Come Out for Repeal of Federal Child-Labor Laws, Because the Kids Insist. Coming soon: Talking polar bears pleading for more oil drilling.

Oh, my — not only was Paul Ryan’s hunger=dignity speech appalling on the merits, the anecdote he used to make his point was fake — a distortion of a real story with a completely different point.

I’m actually not happy with this discovery; the crucial point here should be that even if the story of the kid who wants brown bag lunches were true, it would be a terrible argument against school lunches and the social safety net in general. In a way it’s a bad thing to have the conversation shifted instead to Ryan’s failure to get simple facts right.

— Into the Mouths of Babes, Paul Krugman, nytimes.com today

Here’s what Ryan said yesterday in his speech to the CPAC convention, as related by New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait:

In his vacuous, sloganeering speech today at CPAC, Paul Ryan argued that “the left” — the term he used to describe not the actual left, but the Obama administration — offers Americans “a full stomach — and an empty soul.” What soul-emptying ways is “the left” filling people’s stomachs? Ryan has a story from his fellow Republican, Eloise Anderson:

“She once met a young boy from a poor family. And every day at school, he would get a free lunch from a government program. But he told Eloise he didn’t want a free lunch. He wanted his own lunch — one in a brown-paper bag just like the other kids’. He wanted one, he said, because he knew a kid with a brown-paper bag had someone who cared for him.”

Anderson is a longtime anti-safety-net crusader and currently a member of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.  Ryan was paraphrasing testimony gave to the House Budget Committee, which Ryan chairs, last summer.  Greg Sargent details the controversy here, and links to Glenn Kessler’s and Wonkette’s investigative reports on it from last night.

I initially had the same reaction as Krugman: that this under-oath fabrication of fact by a witness at a congressional hearing who is a key member of Walker’s administration, would become the news story, rather than that Ryan used the anecdote to come out for repeal not just of the school lunch program but also of child-labor laws.

But upon reflection, I think the revelation that this Walker appointee gave fabricated testimony to a congressional committee–stunning, in itself–is a net plus, because it brings far more public attention than otherwise to the premise of this Walker appointee (and therefore of Walker himself) and Ryan: that children from poor families, including, presumably, infants and toddlers–these people want to kill the food stamp program, too–should work for their food.

This odd conflation of parent and child, by both Anderson and Ryan, is so weird and ridiculous–and so stunningly offensive, surely, to most Americans–that its mere verbatim recitation will, I think, be a gift that keeps on giving during this year’s campaigns.  But it also highlights this: that the Republicans appear to be unaware that a large percentage of school-lunch-program or the food-stamp-program (or both) recipients come from households headed by someone who works, often full-time, at a very low-wage job or at a combination of low-wage jobs.

Or else these pols are claiming that no one should work at very-low-wage jobs, and should instead find a way up the socioeconomic ladder.  In which case, they are saying that Walmart and the fast-food and hospitality industries should pay their employees more.  I mean, shouldn’t be able to find employees. (Not ones who’ve fed themselves and their kids, anyway.)

Paul Ryan and Scott Walker turn out to be pro-labor, after all!  Who knew?  We Dems need to start appreciating the annual CPAC conference for it’s, um, newsworthiness.

These people’s weird obsession with killing the social safety net is shared by–what?–15%-20% of the public? They themselves seem to recognize that outrageous that the people who want this is small, and the people who obsess over it and privilege it over all other policy matters, is really, really small.  Which presumably is why they keep fabricating stories.

This is part and parcel of the genre that until yesterday most recently featured as its top stars Julie Boonstra and Emilie Lamb.  What’s next? Talking polar bears pleading for more oil drilling?

****

As an aside, I think that if Walker is serious about running for president, he needs to fire Anderson.  She fabricated a story, under oath, at a congressional hearing.  That’s not a trivial matter.

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Paul Krugman vs. … um … me. [Updated.]

No, no; of course, I don’t mean that Paul Krugman has expressly disputed something I wrote here on AB.  Or that he has ever read a post of mine.  Or that he knows that I exist.  Those latter two things have happened, but only in my dreams. The first of those has never happened at all.

Well, not directly, anyway.

But on Feb. 6, I posted a piece here that I titled “Republicans and Dana Milbank Solve the Unemployment Problem in Germany, Canada, Taiwan and Australia: Those countries just need to repeal their universal-healthcare laws and tie healthcare insurance to full-time employment at large corporations!”  The gist of which was that the claim that it is a bad thing economically for the country that Obamacare ends (to some extent) the U.S.’s overwhelmingly prevalent access-to-healthcare-insurance job-lock, as a practical matter requiring that one member of a family hold a full-time job at a company that provides access to healthcare insurance for full-time employees and their immediate dependent family members, conflicts with the experiences of every single other advanced economy in the world.  None of which predicates access to healthcare insurance upon a family member’s full-time employment at a company that provides access to healthcare insurance for its full-time employees. Some of which (I believe) are healthier economies than ours.

And today, Krugman, in a blog post titled “Why Do You Care How Much Other People Work?”, answers that question thusly:

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Note to Christie: Sleights of Hand Work Only If They Go Unnoticed.

Chris Christie’s political success in New Jersey was based on the perception that his personal style — which involved lots of yelling at people — was a sign of his governing effectiveness. This perception may have flourished most easily in a state whose informal motto is “You got a problem with that?”

But what some of us suspected all along was that Christie didn’t yell at people because he was a get-results kind of guy; he yelled at people because he had anger management issues. And his office’s bizarre screed against David Wildstein, his former ally now turned enemy, confirms that diagnosis.

— Paul Krugman, Be Nice to Your Social Studies Teacher, NYTimes.com, today

Since the bridge scandal broke early last month, and it’s been reported that some now-high-profile Christie appointees have resigned or been fired, I’ve wondered from time to time what has happened to one obscure Christie appointee: the guy who Christie assigned to shadow him with a videocamera in public settings and capture his tirades at ordinary constituents.  The purpose was to post the videotapes on YouTube: publicly humiliating unwitting foils as the road to reelection and higher office.

Sadistic-narcissistic-clown for president!

George Will and I don’t agree on much, but last fall, after Christie made some  highly-publicized vile comment to, if I remember right, a fan of a baseball team that was competing with Christie’s favorite team (or some such), Will wrote a column in which he made what struck me as a spot-on point.  His larger point was that he dearly hoped that the 2016 presidential contest does not end up being one between Hillary Clinton and Chris Christie, but he made clear that his objection to Christie was that a pathologically rude person–someone whose stock-in-political-trade is gratuitous insults–should not be president, irrespective of any other considerations.

I remember thinking at the time, “Well, good for George Will.”

After I read the full story on Friday about Wildstein’s lawyer’s letter, I thought any judgment about its meaning and effect was, rather obviously, premature. The letter provided no specifics at all.  But after Christie’s office responded on Friday, saying that the attorney’s letter proved that Christie played no role in the decision to cause “traffic problems in Fort Lee,” I wondered whether Christie was now claiming it was Wildstein who texted deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly that it was “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” rather than, y’know, the other way around.  Wildstein’s apparent lack of documented evidence that Christie knew of the plan to cause traffic problems in Fort Lee before it was executed hardly means that no such evidence exists; it means only that Wildstein has no documented evidence of it.

So an important question was, is Christie really going to claim now that the others who it already is known were involved in the scheme–Bill Baroni, Wildstein’s superior at the Port Authority; Bill Stepian, Christie’s top political advisor; Bridget Anne Kelly, his deputy chief of staff–were mere puppets of Wildstein?

And now we have the answer, which is, yes.   Otherwise, what in heaven’s name was the point of that really weird memo disseminated yesterday?  Maybe that, as Krugman says, “This guy is scum. Everyone has always known that he was scum, since he was a teenager. And that’s why I appointed him to a major policy position”? Wildstein either has or knows of obtainable, documented evidence of whatever, or he doesn’t.

And Wildstein was not the one who sent the text saying, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.” He was the one who received the text.  Sleights of hand work only if they go unnoticed.

But Krugman’s larger point is this:

What’s remarkable here, actually, is how many pundits were taken in by the Christie persona. How could they not at least have wondered whether this guy’s bullying style reflected deeper flaws?

Yes.  But his bullying style, in itself, should have offended pundits en masse, as deeply abusive of his official position, which was the source of his ability to so publicly misuse ordinary individuals.

To reiterate: Good for George Will.

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Paul Krugman is wrong; Obama DOES need to discuss Keynesian economics in his State of the Union address. Here’s why.

Paul Krugman is my hero.  I credit him–him alone, really–with ending, finally, the Peterson Foundation’s capture of almost all of the mainstream news media as their PR outfit.  Just as I credit Occupy Wall Street, also alone, with finally ending the decades-long political prohibition of class warfare by any group but the hedge fund/CEO crowd. Krugman, unlike other liberal economists, thanks to his New York Times column and blog, is not relegated by the news and political worlds to tree-falling-in-a-forest status.  His writings penetrate the barriers–consciousness–that no other liberal economist can.  And he has, single-handledly, removed from the big-name propogandists the freedom to sell their snake oil, unrebutted in any broadly-read forum, as news and fact-based commentary. Krugman bats down this stuff, daily.

The economic/fiscal right is similar to the conservative-legal-movement right, best as I can tell, in its perversion– its Orwellian redefinition–of common language terms and its out-of-the-blue proclamations of false fact. In law, it is words, phrases and concepts such as freedom, liberty, viewpoint coercion, matters of public concern, First Amendment rights to free speech and free association and to petition the government for a redress of grievances, that are now regularly removed from their ordinary meaning to strip or fabricate constitutional rights, depending upon which outcome advances what is at bottom the Reagan-era-right’s legislative agenda.  There is, it is by now clear, no redefinition or fabrication of fact too shamelessly politically opportunistic, or too whiplash-inducing in light of their own recent aggressive rulings to the contrary, that four or five justices won’t adopt, and certainly no limit to the bald silliness that their legal-movement apparatus won’t offer with a straight face.

Freedom means imprisonment.  Or, more precisely, it means being denied access to the federal habeas corpus process after conviction of felonies and sentenced to a long prison term, however rampant the violations of federal constitutional rights, as long as the conviction was in state court, because states, or more accurately, state judicial branches are sovereigns whose dignity must not be offended by the shackles of having to comply with the Constitution’s dictates and prohibitions.  Yes, and work will make you free, as long as the work occurs inside a concentration camp, within a sovereign state.  Or at least it will if you’re a public-sector employee in a unionized job and you are ideologically opposed to big government but not so strongly against it that you will quit your job and ask that your position not be filled upon your departure.  Or if you’re a physician who accepts Medicare patients.  But not if you’re a prosecutor whose discovered bald misconduct on the part of the part of the police in a prosecution, and your own office looks the other way and you complain, since the phrase “big government” does not include within its meaning police misconduct and therefore is not a matter of public concern.

I wish there were a Krugman-equivalent for legal issues.  Without one, these folks dramatically rewrite the Constitution and federal statutes, with rare exceptions entirely off the public’s radar screen.  But there’s not.

But I digress.  I come not just to praise Paul Krugman but also to refute him.  Well, actually to refute his argument today that it’s okay if Obama doesn’t address Keynesian economics in his State of the Union address next week, as long as he addresses, at length, issues of dramatically unequal income and wealth distribution and access to the means of economic mobility.  Krugman recognizes, of course, the relationship between the two, but concludes, citing FDR’s inability to do so in 1937, that the former is almost impossible to accomplish while the latter is easy to do because the public is now very aware of the basic facts and, by large majorities, concerned about it.

Krugman’s purpose is largely to dispute the claim by some liberals that a focus on inequality distracts from an argument for a jobs-creation agenda–that is, an argument for a new economic-stimulus fiscal policy.  He’s right that that is wrong; issues of inequality of income and wealth are anything but a distraction from the sluggish economy.  And, separately, they’re of essential concern.

But a threshold to progress on either of these fronts is victory in this year’s congressional and state-government elections. And therefore, a refutation of the Republican “Obama economy” mantra.

Two weeks ago, in a post I titled “Yes, Speaker Boehner, But WHOSE Policies of the Present Are to Blame?”, I expressed my deep desire to see Obama use his State of the Union Address to point out the dramatic decline in government employment at every level of government–federal, state, local–throughout his presidency, and to show, using charts, how that differs from every economic downturn since the early 1930s.  This is different than a Keynesian argument for economic stimulus. This is easy to explain–both the facts and the economic effects.  If a teacher, firefighter or police officer is laid off, he or she and his or family is spending far less money in the community and the larger economy.  And the layoff may mean the loss of the family’s home.  Federal funds to states and localities has been dramatically reduced since the Tea Party gained control of Congress–a majority in the House, a veto-by-filibuster in the Senate. Compare that to, say, the recession in the early 2000s.

It’s their fiscal policy–and their economy.  And by no means just because of a failure to enact further stimulus programs.  The public needs to be told–and shown–this.  I think it’s important not to conflate stimulus with dramatic reductions in spending. And, with all the respect that Krugman is due notwithstanding, I think that’s what he’s doing.

As for FDR, it seems to me likely that he reversed fiscal course in 1937 not because of public opinion poll results but instead because he, like the public, bought into deficit fears.  But the experience of the 1930s’ double-dip depression, along with the current experience here and in Europe, is not that hard to explain to the public.  FDR’s problem was that Keynesian economics was pretty new territory then, and he wasn’t clairvoyant.  He made the same mistake that Obama made.  He bought the wrong sales pitch.  Understandable in 1937, but not so much these days.

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Marco Rubio Says Farm Subsidies and Hurricane-Disaster Funds Should Not Be Federal Programs. Really. [Updated and typo-corrected.]

For a senator who likes to hold himself out as the future of the Republican brand, Marco Rubio has come up with a remarkably retrograde contribution to the party’s chorus of phony empathy for the poor: Let the states do it.

All anti-poverty funds should be combined into one “flex fund,” he said in a speech on Wednesday, and then given to the states to spend as they see fit. He actually believes that states will “design and fund creative initiatives” to address inequality.

Rubio Demands States’ Right to Ignore the Poor, David Firestone, New York Times, Jan. 9

The last seven days were Marco Rubio’s lucky week.  And not just because the media-declared frontrunner for his party’s 2016 presidential nomination collapsed as a viable candidate even for local dog catcher, should he need a job by the next presidential election. And not because he was smart enough, unlike some other prominent Repubs and pundits, to recognize how breathtakingly offensive the Bridgegate events are across the political spectrum, and to simply demur from comment.

But also because he gave his big speech on poverty on the very day that the bridge scandal broke nationally, and diverted media and the public’s attention from the speech.  A speech that was, in substance, ridiculous.

Firestone notes some highlights from the speech:

“Washington continues to rule over the world of anti-poverty policy-making, with beltway bureaucrats picking and choosing rigid nationwide programs and forcing America’s elected state legislatures to watch from the sidelines,” he said. “As someone who served nine years in the state house, two of them as Speaker, I know how frustrating this is.”

And:

“It’s wrong for Washington to tell Tallahassee what programs are right for the people of Florida,” Mr. Rubio said. “But it’s particularly wrong for it to say that what’s right for Tallahassee is the same thing that’s right for Topeka and Sacramento and Detroit and Manhattan and every other town, city and state in the country.”

After thinking about this for a few minutes–I read the Firestone piece this morning–I’ve concluded that Rubio is onto something.  I, too, think it’s wrong for Washington to tell Tallahassee what programs are right for the people of Florida. The programs I have in mind aren’t the one’s he’s talking about, but they are nonetheless federal programs that assist certain Floridians.  Such as Floridians who have large financial interests in the sugarcane industry.  And Floridians who live in areas hit every few years with devastation from hurricanes.

A key difference, of course, between programs such as farm subsidies and natural-disaster assistance, on the one hand, and the Medicaid and food stamps, on the other, is that the latter are “federalism” federal-state-partnership programs in which states opt into program and the federal government and the states share the costs, with the federal government paying the far greater share.  Non-federalism federal programs that provide financial assistance to certain constituencies–including wealthy farmers, the sugarcane industry, owners of beachfront properties, and small businesses in hurricane country–are funded entirely by the federal government.

But Rubio’s complaint isn’t the manner in which these programs are funded. Instead, it is that people in Florida and Kansas, unlike those in Michigan, California and New York, who can’t afford enough food and who are ill but have no access to medical care don’t really need enough food or access to medical care. He does, of course, want the federal government to continue to pay the states large amounts of  money.  He just thinks there should be no strings attached.

It’s particularly wrong for the federal government to say that what’s right for Tallahassee is the same thing that’s right for Topeka and Sacramento and Detroit and Manhattan and every other town, city and state in the country. But it’s right for the federal government to continue to give money to the states without determining how the money should be spent.  And particularly right for the federal government to say that what’s right for Tallahassee is the same thing that’s right for Topeka and Sacramento and Detroit and Manhattan and every other town, city and state in the country when doling out farm subsidies, as long as the federal government continues to recognize that what’s right for Florida is huge subsidies to the sugarcane industry.

So, folks, what other federally funded programs do you agree with Rubio and me should be funded by the federal government but should actually not be federal programs?* The Comments section awaits.

And how many of you share Firestone’s and my dismay (so to speak) that the self-styled standard-bearer for future of the Republican Party hasn’t noticed that, whatever else the effects of Obamacare, the law as it has played out spells the end of new federalism-funded social-safety-net programs?  It does, of course, leave intact the non-federalism federal social-safety-net programs, such as farm, logging, and oil-and-gas-industry subsidies.  The Koch brothers need not worry.

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UPDATE: In a blog post this morning discussing the Republican Party’s decades-long campaign to institutionalize in American society the demeaning of ordinary workers as unworthy of respect, Paul Krugman highlights Rubio’s take on whether a raise in the minimum wage is important: “Raising the minimum wage may poll well, but having a job that pays $10 an hour is not the American dream.”

Krugman writes:

In a sense, he’s right: if the American dream means getting rich, then $10 an hour isn’t living that dream. But most people aren’t and won’t get rich. Raising the minimum wage would mean higher incomes for around 27 million people; in many cases the gains would amount to thousands of dollars a year, which is really a lot in low-income families. So what are all these people, chopped liver? Well, yes, at least in the eyes of the GOP — or maybe make that chopped losers.

Actually, making a living wage is exactly a central part of the American dream, and while a wage of $10 an hour isn’t really a living wage, it comes substantially closer to one than does $7.25 an hour.  Which may be why it polls well.

*Sentence typo-corrected to insert the key word “not,” inadvertently omitted from original post. 3:08 p.m.

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The White House Finally Takes an Actual STAND on Something That Was Not Dictated by Tim Geithner or the National Security Brotherhood. And It’s the Ethical Position in the Controversy, to Boot!

 

This isn’t trivial. One of the sweetest dogs I’ve ever met was a waggly-tailed white pit bull that a neighbor of a friend of mine found roaming the street. As soon as the sweetie saw you approaching, she’d wag her tail excitedly and then lie down on her back to invite you to rub her belly.

These dog-breed-ban statutes are abominable.  Now, a Tim-Geithner -White-House-ban statute would be another thing entirely. Maybe when Congress returns after Labor Day?

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Ireland, Krugman, Kenneth Thomas

Paul Krugman points to Angry Bear Kenneth Thomas in this piece in the New York Times on the use of Ireland as somehow a success story of what are failed policies regarding employment:

Ireland Is The Success Story Of The Future, And Always Will Be

Via Mark Thoma, Kenneth Thomas analyzes the latest attempt to claim that Ireland is a success story — is this the third or the fourth time around? — and concludes that the modest fall in unemployment is all about emigration. Actually, we can reach the same conclusion by going straight to employment data:

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