By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Paul Krugman’s prescient criticism

Paul Krugman

I’ve been trying to think of a way to add some value to New York Times columnist Paul Krugman’s blog post on the “cult of centrism,” which he’s now expanded into a column. I can’t think of much other than to urge you to read it. The media’s insistence on balancing sanity with insanity and truth with lies is not only infuriating, but it’s having a deleterious effect on our democracy, especially in the unspeakably stupid debate over the debt limit. Today, even John Boehner might agree.

Here’s one thing I can recommend that might help place Krugman in context. In early 2009 — even before President Obama took office — Krugman, a Nobel Prize-winning economist, wrote a series of columns arguing that the economic stimulus Obama was proposing would not be enough to offset the worst economic crisis to come along in many decades. Krugman pulled all the strings together in early March, arguing that the $787 billion stimulus was too small and too tilted toward tax breaks, and that when it failed, Obama would be blamed for “massive,” out-of-control spending.

It doesn’t get more prescient than that. And this week Krugman proves himself to be as an astute a media critic as he is a political economist.

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  1. Michael Jonas

    Krugman’s frustration seems to be in the same vein as the warning issued several years ago by then-New York Times “public editor” Daniel Okrent, which has fallen on far too many deaf ears among media types. In what’s become known as “Okrent’s Law,” he said, “The pursuit of balance can create imbalance because sometimes something is true.”

  2. Stephen Stein

    The extent to which Obama has bought into this austerity mentality is astounding. We’re at 9+% unemployment and no one in Washington seems to care – even the “liberals”. What a success for those who wanted to destroy Obama’s presidency! The tea party class of 2010 has all but assured us of a double-dip recession, and Obama will take the blame. Genius!

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Stephen: Yes. A rational budget deal right now would consist of balls-to-the-wall stimulus for a year or two, followed by a serious deficit-reduction plan once unemployment is below, say, 5 or 6 percent. But we’re not dealing with rationality.

  3. Eric Morro

    Krugman’s program was too confused and convoluted even to satisfy his own standards. The internal contradictions are so blatant it’s no wonder the final stimulus bill didn’t represent what he was demanding. Somehow we had to have stimulus, but it had to go to the Democratic constituencies first (state and local governments) and at the same time tax increases weren’t so bad…

    Krugman and his supporters then tie themselves in loops to justify these contradictory goals. Hi attractive writing style covers the basic fact that he is an ideologue first and last. Does it ever occur to these people that there has never been a stimulus in history that satisfied Krugman’s selection of factors for success other than WW2?

    We’re going through a painful re-alignment in this country to decide what kind of society we are going to be. People who used to get trillions of dollars in tax money may not get it any more. Do you really think they’re just going to compromise over it? Try standing between somebody and a million dollars sometime to see what they will do to you.

  4. Ben Starr

    While i enjoy Paul Krugman’s writing and he is incredibly bright, I don’t see evidence to suggest his plan for stimulating the economy would have worked to suggest that he is prescient. I’m not even sure how that suggestion places “Krugman in context” (which i’m not sure he actually needed).

  5. Aaron Read

    Krugman’s ideas don’t have to be proven right in order for him to be considered “prescient” about how everyone else got it wrong. After all, Krugman’s analysis of how the stimulus would fail, and what the consequences would be, was spot on. I merely give him credit for ALSO proposing ideas that might conceivably have worked. That’s more than most naysayers of any plan can provide.

  6. Brad Deltan

    What’s really disappointing is how deeply NPR has fallen into the “centrist” trap. After 15 years of nonstop attacks from the right about a fictional liberal bias, they have become so skittish over this issue that they’ll bend over backwards to appear “centrist” and, ironically, end up being biased. Just not liberally so.

  7. tobe berkovitz

    Stimulus? More orange barrels!!!!!

    • Dan Kennedy

      @tobe: We both know that tax cuts and aid to offset state and local budget cuts accounted for most of the stimulus. As for the orange barrels, better that than even higher unemployment.

  8. L.K. Collins

    Stimulus? More orange barrels with huge signs that say “These Barrels are brought to you by Barack Obama”.

    BTW, The fine new surface of about 2 miles just down the road brought to us by the stimulus …with the requisite Obama Loves Obama sign…is now littered with cold patches as a result of the fine job done by the stimulus-supported road workers and our tax-supported highway department’s patchers.

  9. Larry Anderson

    Your comment about the accuracy of Krugman’s prediction reminded me of the story about the Hamilton College study that ranked pundits — both op-ed columnists and politicians who appeared on talk shows — on the accuracy of their prognostications. Krugman was ranked first, Cal Thomas last. The rest of the 26 ranked pundits did not necessarily break down on liberal/conservative lines. One amusing result, according to the Poynter story on the study, coincided with my own purely anecdotal experience: “…those prognosticators with a law degree were more likely to be wrong.”

    Here’s the Romenesko story at

  10. @Brad, I’ve heard the shift in NPR’s tone as well. I’m so glad they get to join the ranks of Serious Adults now. For the record, On Point doesn’t seem to have gone over yet.

    @Dan, the need for false “balance” in the media is one of the worst developments of the last two decades (well, I think that’s how old it is). It’s infuriating when it’s used in scientific stories (“we’re going to do a story about global warming’s effects, but just so everyone knows we’re not biased, we’re going to present the viewpoints of a fringe group that denies climate change”). While I won’t argue that economics is a science, it’s maddening that most of the mainstream media isn’t doing an adequate job teasing out the politics from the policy.

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