Monday, February 21, 2011

Krugman Sophistry

--Richard E. Vatz

There has long been a special contempt in my heart for The New York Times columnist Paul Krugman because he is an extremely intelligent man, and the illogic which inhabits his columns is nowhere near as evident (I did not say it was non-existent) in his appearances on This Week, wherein George F. Will apparently keeps him only mildly specious. Thus, he appears to know when he exercises his sophistry.

So, I am simply going to provide you, conservative reader (or just honest reader), with his column today with my annotations.

Wisconsin Power Play

By PAUL KRUGMAN
February 21, 2011

Last week, in the face of protest demonstrations [no reference to their incivility which liberal Democrats claim to be the province of conservative Tea Party members] against Wisconsin’s new union-busting governor, Scott Walker — demonstrations that continued through the weekend, with huge crowds on Saturday — Representative Paul Ryan made an unintentionally apt comparison: “It’s like Cairo has moved to Madison.” [Fine, it is inapt; typical belaboring of a writing weak point that is irrelevant to the issue.]

It wasn’t the smartest thing for Mr. Ryan to say, since he probably didn’t mean to compare Mr. Walker, a fellow Republican, to Hosni Mubarak. Or maybe he did — after all, quite a few prominent conservatives, including Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Rick Santorum, denounced the uprising in Egypt and insist that President Obama should have helped the Mubarak regime suppress it. [We're now two paragraphs into the column on this irrelevancy.]

In any case, however, Mr. Ryan was more right than he knew. For what’s happening in Wisconsin isn’t about the state budget, despite Mr. Walker’s pretense that he’s just trying to be fiscally responsible. It is, instead, about power. [They are simply not mutually exclusive. Is there a power component? Yes. Is it the primary issue? What is the evidence that it is?] What Mr. Walker and his backers are trying to do is to make Wisconsin — and eventually, America — less of a functioning democracy and more of a third-world-style oligarchy. [name-calling...will there be any substantive support of this argument? Republicans won the election and seats; it was the Democrats who left town; what is anti-democratic about what they’ve (Walker and Republicans) done?] And that’s why anyone who believes that we need some counterweight to the political power of big money should be on the demonstrators’ side. [non-sequitur and begging the question of whose "big money" is the issue]

Some background: Wisconsin is indeed facing a budget crunch, although its difficulties are less severe than those facing many other states. [latter point is not relevant to the issue] Revenue has fallen in the face of a weak economy, while stimulus funds, which helped close the gap in 2009 and 2010, have faded away.

In this situation, it makes sense to call for shared sacrifice, including monetary concessions from state workers. And union leaders have signaled that they are, in fact, willing to make such concessions. [Oh? Mr. Krugman, precisely what concessions by union leaders -- say Mark Miller -- are being bandied about, and when were they bandied?]

But Mr. Walker isn’t interested in making a deal. [he won the election – what specific compromise is democratic and what policy is not? When unions had untrammeled power, what compromise did they make?] Partly that’s because he doesn’t want to share the sacrifice: even as he proclaims that Wisconsin faces a terrible fiscal crisis, he has been pushing through tax cuts that make the deficit worse. Mainly, however, he has made it clear that rather than bargaining with workers, he wants to end workers’ ability to bargain. [No, they can still bargain on wages, just not at the public trough for health and retirement, and the public can reject demands for wages, like any employer.]

The bill that has inspired the demonstrations would strip away collective bargaining rights for many of the state’s workers, in effect busting public-employee unions [why should public employee unions have power to hold the public hostage when there is insufficient representation of the citizens of the state? If a union demands too much in the private sector, the employees run the risk of bankrupting the company.]. Tellingly, some workers — namely, those who tend to be Republican-leaning [give some examples if you’re going to make the argument of preferential treatment – a potentially acceptable argument]— are exempted from the ban; it’s as if Mr. Walker were flaunting the political nature of his actions.

Why bust the unions [Mr. Krugman, you don’t phrase a utilitarian argument by citing possible ancillary effects – say why the original position is incorrect. If one is arguing that public unions are stealing money from the public, the answer isn’t, “Hey stop! You’re going to cripple the unions]” ? As I said, it has nothing to do with helping Wisconsin deal with its current fiscal crisis. Nor is it likely to help the state’s budget prospects even in the long run: contrary to what you may have heard, public-sector workers in Wisconsin and elsewhere are paid somewhat less than private-sector workers with comparable qualifications, so there’s not much room for further pay squeezes. [Not an irrelevant claim, but the opposite has been argued – provide evidence, and one should be suspicious of the phrase “somewhat less”]

So it’s not about the budget; it’s about the power. [Again, the article's seminal non sequitur]

In principle, every American citizen has an equal say in our political process. In practice, of course, some of us are more equal than others. Billionaires can field armies of lobbyists; they can finance think tanks that put the desired spin on policy issues; they can funnel cash to politicians with sympathetic views (as the Koch brothers did in the case of Mr. Walker). On paper, we’re a one-person-one-vote nation; in reality, we’re more than a bit of an oligarchy, in which a handful of wealthy people dominate. [Right, there is inequality in influence everywhere; here, it’s the union-benefitting political inequality that has characterized Wisconsin politics at least since the birth of the AFL-CIO]

Given this reality, it’s important to have institutions that can act as counterweights to the power of big money. And unions are among the most important of these institutions.

You don’t have to love unions, you don’t have to believe that their policy positions are always right, to recognize that they’re among the few influential players in our political system representing the interests of middle- and working-class Americans, as opposed to the wealthy [how is making the average citizen of the state pay you more a counterweight to “the wealthy?” George Will would eat Krugman for lunch, but he would not make such arguments without significant qualifiers in front of Will. Indeed, if America has become more oligarchic and less democratic over the last 30 years — which it has — that’s to an important extent due to the decline of private-sector unions.

And now Mr. Walker and his backers are trying to get rid of public-sector unions, too.

There’s a bitter irony here. The fiscal crisis in Wisconsin, as in other states, was largely caused by the increasing power of America’s oligarchy. After all, it was superwealthy players, not the general public, who pushed for financial deregulation and thereby set the stage for the economic crisis of 2008-9, a crisis whose aftermath is the main reason for the current budget crunch. And now the political right is trying to exploit that very crisis, using it to remove one of the few remaining checks on oligarchic influence.

So will the attack on unions succeed? I don’t know. But anyone who cares about retaining government of the people by the people [This argument is intended to link a god-term to Krugman's unsupported thesis; nowhere does he demonstrate that Gov. Walker's bill is inconsistent with "government by the people"] should hope that it doesn’t.

1 comment:

John J. Walters said...

I share your feelings on Krugman.

We actually take him to task quite a bit in the book that me and a few other folks (students, at the time) wrote two years ago -- it's an econ companion text for intro courses that Pearson is publishing later this year.

I'll have to send you a copy, Vatz.

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