Battle of the Pauls: Why Krugman's Attack on Rep. Ryan Falls Flat

According to Paul Krugman Republican politics is characterized by pathological dishonesty. That is to say, he feels that many Republicans in Congress, in their heart of hearts, understand certain things – that stimulus is good, that budget cuts are bad, and that deficits are neither good nor bad – it’s just that they are too afraid to admit it to voters.

Krugman summed it up thusly in a recent column, “Once you’ve decided to hide your beliefs and say whatever you think will get you the nomination, to pretend to agree with people you privately believe are fools, why worry at all about the truth?”

It is a deeply cynical way to look at the world.

For all his finger pointing it is quite easy to see that Mr. Krugman is exactly the type of “flimflam man” that he has accused Republicans of being.

Here’s how Krugman described Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan to reform Medicare:

“After 2020, the main alleged saving would come from sharp cuts in Medicare, achieved by dismantling Medicare as we know it, and instead giving seniors vouchers and telling them to buy their own insurance. . .The only way the Ryan plan could save money would be my making those vouchers too small to pay for adequate coverage.”

Nevermind, that the entire paragraph is completely untrue. Under Ryan’s plan Medicare isn’t dismantled; that is a claim that has thoroughly debunked.  It is a premium support system, which is altogether different than a voucher. And finally, savings would come as market pressure forcing the price of medical procedures down, not because of a lack of coverage.

The main problem is the complete change in tone and rhetoric when writing about the Obama Administration “plan” for Medicare.

 “The main thing, though, is the strengthened role of and target for the Independent Payment Advisory Board. This can sound like hocus-pocus – but it’s not.

As I understand it, it would force the board to come up with way to put Medicare on what amounts to a budget – growing not faster than GDP +.05 – and would force Congress to specifically overrule those proposed savings. That’s what cost-control look like!”

You wouldn’t know it given Krugman’s attack, but Ryan’s budget plan aims to hold Medicare spending growth per beneficiary to the exact same figure – GDP +0.5 percent. The main difference between the two is that Obama would use an unelected board of Washington-appointed bureaucrats to determine how to hold health care costs to that growth rate, whereas Ryan would keep costs down by empowering consumers to pick-and-choose their own care.

The goal is by and large the same and yet Krugman labels Ryan’s plan as “flimflam” and praises Obama’s plan for its “cost control.”

Krugman’s undisguised partisan hackery extends to comparisons of Ryan’s and Obama’s tax plans. In speaking of Ryan’s “Path to Prosperity” budget Krugman says:

“Mr. Ryan insists that despite these tax cuts his proposal is “revenue neutral,” that he would make up for the lost revenue by closing loopholes. But he has refused to specify a single loophole he would close.”

And yet the silence was deafening when President Obama released a corporate tax plan that not only promised more revenue by closing loopholes, but also had the audacity to add loopholes!

More specifically, the plan says that it will “eliminate dozens of tax loopholes and subsidies, broaden the base and cut the corporate tax rate to spur growth in America.” But as the Tax Foundation’s analysis of the plan makes clear, “The administration proposes to close a mere 6 loopholes, out of about 250 (according to the Joint Committee on Taxation). Worse, the administration proposes to add 11, for a net gain of 5 loopholes.”

Was Krugman outraged, or even just a little chafed, at Obama’s promise to increase revenue while expanding loopholes. Nope. Despite nearly every economist flocking to the blogosphere to weigh in on the proposal, Krugman stayed in the shadows, apparently unwilling to go after the President’s unwillingness to explain his mysterious new revenue.

I’ll finish this examination of Krugman’s flimflammery, to steal his word, by returning to his quote from earlier in this post: “Once you’ve decided to hide your beliefs and say whatever you think will get you the nomination, to pretend to agree with people you privately believe are fools, why worry at all about the truth?”

Ah the truth, something Krugman, is apparently willing to bend if it fits the political needs of his ideological brethren.