Sunday, February 13, 2011

My Issue with Paul Krugman

Paul Krugman published a pithy blog post on the New York Times site looking at some of the Republicans' proposed cuts to public goods funding:
WIC 1008 million
Food for Peace 544 million
NOAA 450 million
NASA 579 million
Energy efficiency and renewable energy 899
Science 1111 million
Nuclear nonproliferation 648 million
Federal buildings fund 1653 million
Homeland security administration 489 million FEMA, various, around 1.2 billion
EPA clean water and drinking water about 1.8 billion
Community health centers 1.3 billion
Centers for disease control 900 million
These are deep cuts but not ones that will reduce the deficit. They cut effective programs to the bone without reducing overall government spending by an appreciable amount. Even worse, the money that one takes out of these programs will not be saved by the American taxpayer because the public will have to sink their own money into accommodating for the loss of the public good.

Explaining the value of these programs would be an excellent use of a NYTimes blog. It would certainly have some weight if delivered by a Nobel Prize-winning economist. But instead of using his laurels to propel public understanding of economics, Krugman is content to sit back and taunt Republicans:
WIC is nutritional aid for pregnant women and women with young children; let’s cut that, because the damage to the nation from malnourishment is a problem for future politicians. NOAA is weather and climate — hey, what we don’t know can’t hurt us. Nuclear nonproliferation — well, we probably won’t feel the pain of a terrorist nuke assembled from old Soviet fissile material for a couple of years. FEMA — well, how often do hurricanes hit New Orleans? CDC — with luck, by the time plague hits someone else can be blamed.
This isn't the post that this moment requires. A better use of resources (page space, media oxygen, reader interest, etc...) would be explaining that for every dollar taken out of community health centers, the costs of emergency care go up for every American taxpayer. Because NOAA won't have funding to research adaptive strategies to prepare for a warmer world and to predict the more severe weather fluctuations that result from climate change, there will be a lot of economic loss from failures to confront climate change for individual firms and in the aggregate. The costs of malnourishment last a lifetime, and will be magnified with every dollar cut from WIC. There are economic arguments to be made here, but Paul Krugman doesn't have the patience to make them publicly.

Paul Krugman is a brilliant economist, but he's far from a brilliant communicator. Yesterday's post is totally unpersuasive to anybody who doesn't already think about government policy in a serious way. Instead, he could easily have invited readers to ponder the role of government in assuring public goods, the optimal allocation of resources between the public and private sphere in combating public ills, and whether it makes sense as a society to magnify the costs of living in a society by cutting government services. This laundry list provides many opportunities for an adult discussion. Instead, Krugman pretends to be a sloganeering buffoon. It's time to bring out the Nobel Prize winner in him.

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