Krugman the Hack vs. Krugman the Economist

I am simply exhausted with Paul Krugman calling people anti-science neanderthals for staking out fairly mainstream economic positions that he himself has held in the past.  It would be one thing to say, "well, I used to believe the same thing but I changed my mind because x, y, z".  That would be a statement to respect.  Instead Krugman 1) pretends he never said any such thing and 2) acts like his opponent's position is so out of the mainstream that they are some sort of terrorist for even suggesting it.

I had an example just the other day.

Here is another, from Ben Domenech:

Yesterday, New York Times columnist and CUNY economics professor Paul Krugman had some very strong words about the position in Republican Congressman Paul Ryan’s new poverty report that American welfare programs discourage work and “actually reduce opportunity, creating a poverty trap.”  In fact, after contrasting the Ryan report’s view on poverty traps with some data on inequality and welfare states, Krugman resoundingly concluded that Ryan’s ideas were a total sham:

So the whole poverty trap line is a falsehood wrapped in a fallacy; the alleged facts about incentive effects are mostly wrong, and in any case the entire premise that work effort = social mobility is wrong.

Despite Krugman’s strong conclusions, however, Ryan’s views about US welfare policies and poverty traps are actually pretty mainstream – cited by people across the political spectrum as a big reason to reform state federal poverty programs.  In fact, a New York Times columnist and Princeton economics professor expressed these widely-held views on the Old Grey Lady’s pages a mere two months ago:

But our patchwork, uncoordinated system of antipoverty programs does have the effect of penalizing efforts by lower-income households to improve their position: the more they earn, the fewer benefits they can collect. In effect, these households face very high marginal tax rates. A large fraction, in some cases 80 cents or more, of each additional dollar they earn is clawed back by the government.”

Even more, the Ryan report’s “poverty trap” analysis is based on the work of the Urban Institute’s Gene Steuerle’s (see p. 7 of the Ryan report), on whom the very same Princeton professor once wrote:

[I]t’s actually a well-documented fact that effective marginal rates are highest, not on the superrich, but on workers toward the lower end of the scale. Why? Partly because of the payroll tax, but largely because of means-tested benefits that fade out as your income rises. Here’s a recent discussion by Eugene Steuerle

That professor, if you haven’t already guessed, was none other than Paul Krugman. 

By the way, can I say how happy the first sentance of this quote makes me, to no longer see my alma mater mentioned in the same breath as Krguman at every turn?


  1. Canvasback:

    It is a pretty mainstream point. I remember seeing the same argument in an episode of "Good Times" back in the '70s. The family faced the same situation - an effective 50% marginal tax rate. Someone, I think it was Ja'net DuBois, called it the Washington D.C. shuffle, "For every two steps forward you take, they drag you back one."

  2. Smokey the Bear:

    The National Park Service, administered by the U.S. Department of the Interior, asks "Please Do Not Feed the Animals." The stated reason for this policy is because "The animals will grow dependent on handouts and will not learn to take care of themselves."

  3. Arrian:

    "...the entire premise that work effort = social mobility is wrong."

    This has become a pretty common argument on the Left recently, but I hadn't heard it (at least not outside of tinfoil hat circles) before mid last year or so. It seems like an outgrowth of the "if not for all the government provided things like roads and education, you wouldn't have anything" line of argument but seems to have expanded to "the only thing that separates the rich from the poor is luck." Any idea how this got so much traction and became so popular so quickly and recently? I don't follow labor or welfare economics too much, but I would have thought I would have heard of some massively groundbreaking research on the subject capable of overturning years of theory and data.

  4. Colin77:

    Here is another, from Ben Domenech:

    It wasn't written by Ben Domenech, but rather Scott Lincicome.

  5. Craig L:

    When talking about people who work and just can't get ahead, the media usually downplays heavily the fact that the person in question is single and has multiple kids, as if it is irrelevant. These are the cases in which social mobility is hindered, but it's not Walmart's fault that the wages they pay can't support this type of family arrangement.