Paul Krugman strikes out…again

Scripps Howard News Service

Paul Krugman has struck again, or rather struck out again; this time on the subject of how our economy is really not so great and that anyone who doesn’t agree is on the take.

It’s typical of this columnist at The New York Times to castigate the integrity of anyone who fails to concur with his point of view. He does it this time by first constructing a fictional conversation in which a Bush supporter keeps overlooking the fact that our splendidly growing economy is not so splendid because it mainly benefits the top 1 percent of the population.

"To a large extent," he writes, "this dialogue of the deaf reflects Upton Sinclair’s principle: It’s difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it."

Excuse me while I burst out laughing, not at the humor in this tiresome line by the socialist novelist Sinclair _ Krugman has used it before _ but because someone who is an economist at Princeton and sets himself up as a great intellectual invariably begins his arguments with the logical fallacy known as the ad hominem attack. You don’t take on the other person’s points. You simply call him names.

And what points might someone make that could conceivably answer Krugman’s contention that the economy’s robustness does not benefit average folks and his lament that "real median family income" fell in the statistically available year of 2004 while the economy grew at a robust 4.2 percent?

What do you say in response to his observation that the richest got much richer that year _ and income more concentrated at the top _ while "the average real income of the bottom 99 percent of the population rose only 1.5 percent" and the poor got poorer? How do you deal with his jibe that "it’s a great economy" for "someone who owns a lot of stock" or his suggestion that a corrective measure would be to increase the minimum wage?

You might start by noting that whatever the increase in income for most Americans, it would be a lot less if the economy were drooping the way it would be without the Bush tax cuts. You might note that 5.4 million jobs have been created over the past three years, that unemployment is at an extraordinarily low rate of 4.6 percent and that none of this is meaningless for ordinary Americans.

You might note that factors such as massive immigration of poor families into America can make the median family income go down as an abstract mathematical calculation without telling us that the purchasing power of great numbers of individual Americans has been in decline. As one economist has noted in a debate on income inequality, a decline in the median age in America would scarcely mean individual Americans were getting younger each year.

You might note the argument put forth by that economist and others that more Americans are getting college educations than ever before and are healthier than ever before, and how even the poor are in many ways living lives that would have marked them as wealthy in eras gone by, thanks in part to technology.

You might note the considerable evidence of high percentages of Americans moving to significantly higher income levels during their lives.

You might note that Krugman opposed a Social Security reform that would have helped rescue a system he poorly understands while simultaneously putting carefully balanced portfolios of stocks and bonds in the hands of average Americans, making it "a great economy" for them, too, as the Dow Jones heads upwards.

You might note that fewer than 1 percent of all Americans earn the minimum wage, that most come from households where other people work _ sometimes from wealthy households _ and that increasing it as much as Democrats propose would almost certainly eliminate some of their jobs.

You might note that if you want to increase incomes, the place to start is with immigration reform. George Borjas of Harvard has maintained that, between 1980 and 2000, legal and illegal immigrants "reduced the average annual earnings of native-born men by an estimated $1,700, or roughly 4 percent." They drove down the wages of men lacking a high school diploma by 7.4 percent, he said.

And you might finally note that while the very rich are getting richer, making them poorer will not make anyone else richer, though it would apparently make Krugman feel better.

(Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado. He can be reached at SpeaktoJay(at)