Monday, February 22, 2016

What passes for political discourse

Many of Professor Krugman's readers of his column and blog at the New York Times are upset with him.  It boils down to this (taken from a reader's comment):
The arguments keep changing with the new ones contradicting the old ones, but the aim stays fixed: to tar Sanders
  • He is not popular
  • Wait, he is popular but he is not serious
  • He is serious but is not electable!
  • Ok, he polls stronger against Trump and wins with Cruz (unlike Hillary!) but 4 "wonks" I hang out with think Hillary is more electable.
  • He has no concrete plans
  • He has concrete plans but cannot carry them out
  • Policy proposals of his economist are crazy, say 4 guys working for Hillary citing no numbers
  • OK, the economist in question actually supports Hillary not Sanders and better macroeconomists than me say his numbers add up, but Sanders' supporters are mean
  • He is mean to point out that Hillary gorges on Wall St money
  • I think Sanders also takes contributions! No? Never mind, his supporters are so mean
  • Obamacare is great but single payer would be better
  • Now that Hillary says single payer will never happen and Sanders proposes it, single payer is crazy
  • Some health care VSP who worked for Hillary assumed crazy numbers and proved Sanders wrong
  • OK, his analysis was debunked by health policy professors, but Sanders' supporters are just too mean to listen to us wonks.
As I recall it, for months, Krugman's readers were asking for commentary on Bernie Sanders, but none were forthcoming.  Until Sanders starting posing a serious threat to Hillary Clinton.  Then there was a whole series of posts, deriding Sanders' supporters as "Bernie bros", and essentially terming them deluded for supporting Sanders.  Krugman then cited other economists, who it turns out, didn't really do their homework.  Krugman, famously a wonk, did not explain whether the premises behind Sanders' programs are flawed, or whether the reasoning leading to the results was flawed; he simply targeted the rosy projections as absurd.  As they may be.  But the sequence above that Krugman is seen to have gone through does not aid his credibility.

The US was on a particular trajectory of economic growth till 2008; and then the financial crisis hit, and since then the US is on a lower trajectory.  This is the famous "output gap".   The economists who are positive about Sanders' plans essentially believe that it is possible to get back to the previous trajectory,  to close the output gap,  and that is where their rosy numbers come from.  Only now is there some substantial argument that, sorry, that is impossible.  And sorry to say, that did not come from Krugman, who gave us only the big sneer.  Great economist though he is, I think he has jumped the shark. 

PS: see this.