Feb 062009

Highlighted by Samizdata.net, this op-ed by Paul Krugman of the New York Times makes me wonder whether he is actually an idiot, or just a disingenuous fucktard.

The lovely peeps over at Samizdata flag up his logical and mathematical nonsense much better than I could, but I do want to take issue briefly with the question of how much the jobs created by the stimulus will cost.

Krugman says:

First, there’s the bogus talking point that the Obama plan will cost $275,000 per job created…The true cost per job of the Obama plan will probably be closer to $100,000 than $275,000 — and the net cost will be as little as $60,000 once you take into account the fact that a stronger economy means higher tax receipts.

The post over at Samizdata points out:

What about Krugman’s own estimate of $100,000 per job if you look at the program in a multi-year basis? He claims this cost from the extra millions of new jobs that would be created after the first year. As the cost of the program is $820 billion, this implies that he believes that the Obama plan will actually create over 8 million new jobs. If this is true, why is the White House claiming only 3 million new jobs from the plan? Making arguments based on the official claims of its government proponents, as the critics have done, are not deceitful as implied by Krugman. Well, not quite as deceitful as calculating costs based on an extra 5 million jobs that do not appear in the program.

So yes. There’s something dodgy with Krugman’s maths.

He needn’t have bothered, though; not being an economist, I’m not entirely certain of what he means by ‘cost per job created,’ but he makes a stupid mistake by engaging with this criticism in the first place. After all, is not the point of a fiscal stimulus to spend lots and lots of money? Does it really matter what it gets spent on or how much that thing costs?

To be absurdly simplistic: if the US government really wanted to, they could divide up this proposed $1 trillion and give an equal share to everybody. According to my handy calculator, and assuming I’ve done all the zeroes correctly, that comes to about $3300 for every man, woman, and child in the US. Exclude the children, and that equal share goes up. Stimulus accomplished. (I should point out that I’m not actually advocating this plan.)

And, contrary to what Krugman apparently believes, people do apportion their own money more efficiently and usefully than the government does. So every one of those $3300 apiece would be well spent.

But my knowledge of economics is minimal, and my mathematical skillz permanently arrested at the level of a 14-year-old, so I’ll leave the rest of Krugman’s article aside for now.

Except for this, which is the part that bugs me:

As the debate over President Obama’s economic stimulus plan gets under way, one thing is certain: many of the plan’s opponents aren’t arguing in good faith. Conservatives really, really don’t want to see a second New Deal, and they certainly don’t want to see government activism vindicated. So they are reaching for any stick they can find with which to beat proposals for increased government spending.

(1) ‘Conservatives really, really don’t want to see a second New Deal.’ The way this statement is phrased makes it sound as if the New Deal saved the nation; conservatives don’t want it; ergo they don’t want the nation to be saved. Presumably, in Krugman’s mind, this is not because they have anything against the idea per se, but because they don’t want the credit for doing it to go to Obama. Is this ‘arguing in good faith’?

(2) ‘They certainly don’t want to see government activism vindicated.’ Naturally they don’t. Once the power and reach of the government grows, it’s very difficult to scale it back again; doing so takes someone like Margaret Thatcher, and observe how beloved she is by the British! Observe how long her achievements lasted! Any American conservative who truly believes in limited government (and there are few of them these days) must oppose the stimulus, whatever its plausible merits, on principle, because it extends the competency of the federal government far beyond what it ought to be.

There is a third problem with his remarks, and that is the latent advocacy of bipartisan consensus. In times of crisis, supposedly, partisan squabbling weakens a nation and saps its confidence. Whatever their opinion of the stimulus, Krugman seems to imply, its critics should suck it up and present a unified front with Obama, because to do so will improve the mental outlook of the country and bolster confidence in its public servants.

As my brother would say, fuck that shit.

I want partisanship. I distrust consensus. I want the party without power to throw every question, argument, and criticism it can come up with, no matter how sly, at the party in power. I want debate – robust, contentious debate. Why? Because without it, the electorate are deprived of choice. And times of crisis are precisely when conflict and argument are most necessary, as crises are exactly when governments are most liable to implement the most illiberal policies.

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