Dan Klein to Paul Krugman: You Can Do Better
By Bryan Caplan
Krugman-bashing has become a cottage industry, but you’ll have to search long and hard for a better workmanship than this piece by Dan Klein and Harika Barlett. Klein and Barlett inventory all of Krugman’s NYT columns, and find a curious pattern of omissions and deviations that are hard to reconcile with Krugman’s self-image as a “champion of the poor.”
First, the omissions. After reviewing all of Krugman’s columns in the sample, the paper finds that he virtually never advocates helping the poor by getting rid of bad government programs (even though there are plenty to choose from):
A comprehensive analysis of the 654 columns shows, however, that Krugman has really sided with liberalization only on the following issues: rent control (6/7/00); US agricultural subsidies (5/7/02); international trade (e.g., 3/8/02; 3/24/02; 6/11/02; 11/28/03); mildly on high-tech anti-trust enforcement including the Microsoft case (often arguing that the government just cannot do anything to improve matters, e.g., 7/12/00; 10/22/00; 6/24/01; 7/1/01; 11/4/01); ethanol mandates and subsidies/tax breaks (6/25/00); NASA manned-space flight (it is only the manning of ships that he opposes; 2/4/03); European labor-market restrictions (3/29/00; 5/3/00); and the Terry Schiavo case (3/29/05).
Thus, Krugman has sided with liberalization only rarely. And when it comes to established interventions, there are only two cases, rent-control and agricultural subsidies, each treated in but a single column, on which Krugman has ever advocated liberalization. Moreover, since the close of 2002 there has been no new and significant espousal of liberalization.
Second, the deviations: Klein and Barlett trace Krugman’s gradual turn against low-skilled immigration. It’s pretty ugly, especially for someone who claims to worry so much about “the poor”:
Krugman’s illiberalism flows from the social-democratic ethos. He now minimizes the spontaneous benefits of liberal immigration: “First, the net benefits to the US economy from immigration, aside from the large gains to the immigrants themselves, are small” (3/27/06). In that column devoted to immigration, the only recognition of the benefits to the immigrants is that “aside.”…
But labor competition is not Krugman’s main concern. “[M]odern America is a welfare state, even if our social safety net has more holes in it than it should — and low-skilled immigrants threaten to unravel that safety net” (3/27/06). … “[T]he political threat that low-skill immigration poses to the welfare state is more serious than the fiscal threat” (3/27/06). Polities “with high immigration tend, other things equal, to have less generous welfare states than those with low immigration” (3/31/06).
Dan Klein tells me that, so far, his critique of Krugman hasn’t gotten the attention he was hoping for. The reason, I suspect, is that attitudes toward Krugman have grown so bimodal. Am I the only economist who read this piece who genuinely felt disappointed that Krugman’s creative mind and intellectual courage could give way to so much conventional demagoguery?