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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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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!

It’s worth appreciating the perverse nature of the [Republicans’] lie on display [in a new web ad against North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan here. Because Republicans are absolutely wedded to their “Obamacare is a job killer” talking point, the CBO report’s findings are being distorted into proof that the law will inflict job losses on millions of workers who, in this telling, become Obamacare’s helpless victims — a labor demand argument. In reality, the report actually found it would impact the choices workers receiving the law’s benefits make — a labor supply argument.

Some conservatives have dealt with the report’s actual findings directly by arguing they prove the case against the law — that government subsidies reduce the incentive to work. Many of the good wonky writers — Jonathan Cohn, Brian Beutler, Jonathan Chait, Jared Bernstein — have already engaged this argument effectively. But that is at least a legitimate debate to have within the context of the CBO’s findings.

Morning Plum: Republicans double down on another Big Lie about Obamacare, Greg Sargent, Washington Post, today

Okay, look, folks.  As Sargent recognizes, there are two distinct issues concerning the Republicans’ and the news media’s treatment of the CBO report’s statement that approximately 2.3 million people will voluntarily retire or reduce their weekly hours from full-time to part-time because they no longer need to work or to work full-time in order to have access to healthcare insurance insurance.

One of those issues is the bald misrepresentation, deliberately or unwittingly, that the report said that an estimated 2.3 million workers will be involuntarily laid off because of Obamacare, and its punditry-proffered corollary that although that’s not at all what the report actually said, what the report actually said is just too complicated for the Democrats to explain to the public between now and November.

Unfortunately for the Washington Post, two of its preeminent political-analyst pundits, Dana Milbank and Chris Cillizza, have become the poster journalists, respectively, for the former and the latter.

The other issue is the question of whether we should return to a healthcare insurance system tied almost entirely to full-time employment, so as to effectively preclude voluntary early retirement (raise the Medicare eligibility age to 67!) or voluntary reduction from full-time to part-time work–or the decision to leave a corporate job and start a business–for millions of Americans, lest we encourage sloth among working-age Americans.  In a transparent attempt at a sleight of hand to quietly backtrack on his jaw-dropping initial misconstruction of the CBO report, Milbank today makes himself the poster mainstream-journalist for support of repeal of Obamacare on this  ground. He says that, with a single exception, the report is “otherwise unhelpful to the health-care law.”  Suffice it to say that the exception is not the uncoupling of access to healthcare insurance from full-time employment at a large corporation; that, he maintains without explanation, is part of the unhelpful stuff.

It is, or course, Milbank rather than the report that is unhelpful, and the absent explanation is that he does not want to admit that he either misread the report on Tuesday or didn’t read it all before posting a full-length column about it.  But why does Sargent–who interpreted the report correctly from the outset–treat this as a legitimate policy dispute?  Yes, it certainly is a policy dispute.  But is it really a legitimate argument that it’s better for the economy to continue to tie access to healthcare insurance to full-time employment at a large corporation?  What evidence is there that this is so?

The United States is the only modern economy in the world that has that system.  But it is not the most successful economy in the world.  Germany, Canada, Australia and Taiwan all (I believe) have more vibrant economies these days than the United States.

As for Cillizza’s claim, reiterated yesterday after criticism of it the day before, I’ve been at an utter loss to understand why journalists and pundits think that the public won’t know by November that the people at issue in that part of the CBO report are those who have wanted to retire or work just part time but haven’t been able to because they need the healthcare insurance benefit–and that their choice to retire or reduce their weekly work hours means openings for others.  

This isn’t rocket science. This option is a fact of life in every advanced economy other than ours, and it’s a concept that almost everyone is very familiar with right here in this country.  Is the unemployment rate higher in Germany, Canada, Australia and Taiwan because their healthcare insurance systems aren’t based on full-time employment by a company that provides it to its full-time but not to its part-time employees?  Really?

This isn’t hard to explain and it’s not hard to understand.  As Sargent says today:

Indeed, even CBO director Douglas Elmendorf directly contested the characterization of jobs being “lost” during yesterday’s House hearing, noting that when people decide to ease up on work for good reasons, “we don’t sympathize. We say congratulations.” Elmendorf even added that those impacted this way could include older people who decide to retire earlier than they otherwise might have, or spouses who choose to reduce work hours to stay home with a new baby.

But instead of simply refuting the anti-Hagan ad with one showing a clip of that part of Elmendorf’s testimony, or of someone in his or her early 60s who is ecstatic to now be able to retire, or a young mother who can now choose to reduce work hours to stay home with a new baby–as they obviously should, and presumably will–the Democrats should do this as well: point out in ads that the Republicans apparently have trouble understanding basic English-language declaratory sentences, such as the ones in the CBO report.

Rather than attacking the Republicans for dishonestly, the Democrats should take them at their word.  Their word being that they are too stupid to understand a clearly written CBO report.

Then again, I suppose the Republicans could invoke Dana Milbank and a few other mainstream journalists to show that they are not alone in that.

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