Paul Krugman’s War on the Unemployed

Now you may think it’s a pipedream that I may impair Paul Krugman’s credibility in any way – the man won a Nobel Prize, writes a column for The New York Times, and appears on countless political talk shows. But I’m here to say that, to me, that doesn’t mean much if you consider his latest column.

In his newest article entitled “War on the Unemployed,” he writes regarding the alleged onslaught,

So what’s going on here? Is it just cruelty? Well, the G.O.P., which believes that 47 percent of Americans are “takers” mooching off the job creators, which in many states is denying health care to the poor simply to spite President Obama, isn’t exactly overflowing with compassion. But the war on the unemployed isn’t motivated solely by cruelty; rather, it’s a case of meanspiritedness converging with bad economic analysis.

Sometimes it still shocks me that writing that’s so blatantly animistic could come from a Nobel Prize winner. Then again, he didn’t receive the “Peace” award.

He cites that in North Carolina, the state government reduced the duration of unemployment benefits in an effort to combat the high unemployment rate. He cites Paul Ryan’s desire to reform welfare (again), and Congress’s allowing extended benefits, introduced during “the economic crisis” to expire.

The fact that he refers to the economic crisis in the past tense is revealing. While he’s more than willing to use California and Michigan as illustrative examples of poverty in the article, he’s less forthright about the fact that it is precisely his policies and arguments that got both those states, and the country in general, into a crisis that we have yet to leave.

He writes that North Carolina has one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation, and laments that North Carolina tries to rectify that situation by reducing unemployment benefits. Regardless of whether you believe cutting unemployment benefits will combat high unemployment rates, it should be plain that as those benefits have been increased, historically so has the unemployment rate. He may call it “cruelty,” but there’s another, equally unpleasant word for doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

His complaint about Paul Ryan is actually misleading – he implies that Ryan’s comments about a safety net versus a hammock refer to state unemployment benefits, but the top target of Ryan’s reform is food stamps – as the Huffington Post reports, “cost has increased from $18 billion in 2001 to $80 billion today. In that time period, enrollment of aid recipients has grown from 17.3 million to 46.6 million.” Morgan Scarboro wrote an excellent piece on food stamps a few weeks ago, so I’ll redirect any readers to her post on that front.

Further, California (and for a long time, Michigan), were perfect prototypes of Krugman’s economic fantasies. That is why California is doing so poorly, because Krugman’s theories don’t work in practice. California’s high income and real estate taxes, absence of right-to-work, and gutting of the  constitutional spending restriction known as the Gann Limit would all fit perfectly into Krugman’s reasoning that we should invest in more aid during times of recession and depression. But all those things actually do is provoke your citizens and businesses to flee to other states that are less expensive for them. To his credit, Krugman also says states should save money during times of growth – but of course that’s just another pipe dream.

In the end, Krugman’s column feels like it has a different beneficiary than the unemployed: his own ego. Rather than reiterate his same old arguments, he ought to consider what those lucky thousands who live with policies influenced by his work have to live with every day.