Economist and columnist Paul Krugman appeared on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" last week with show co-hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, as well as Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Haass and former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D) to discuss the deficit. The five of them spent more than 20 minutes on the issue-quite an achievement for a cable news program-and Krugman found himself quadruple-teamed the entire time.
(Liberals on teevee, and at governmental hearings, are quite used to this ratio which is why facts come in so handy for us and are so irritating to those who gang up against them. -z)
Krugman argued that America's long-term deficit is not the problem that America's political class insists it is, especially with regard to Medicare and Medicaid.
Far more significant, he argued, is the challenge of "job creation," which is currently thwarting our economic recovery from reaching millions of middle-class Americans who continue to suffer the effects of the 2008 financial crisis.
Given the lack of substance with which Krugman's arguments were met, one would have concluded that the four members of Scarborough's panel were overmatched in their discussion. Krugman had facts, figures, and a deep understanding of economic theory, evidenced by his many decades of practice as both an economics professor and a government advisor, including a post as senior international economist for the President's Council of Economic Advisers under former President Ronald Reagan, and his Nobel Memorial Prize in economic sciences. These are just a few of the many reasons The Economist labeled him "the most celebrated economist of his generation."
His critics, in the discussion, could not compete.
And while one might be sympathetic to the difficulty that most people have in calling up complicated facts and economic theories on the spot-especially when faced with a bevy of television cameras-one cannot help but be depressed by Scarborough's next day follow-up on Politico comically titled "Paul Krugman vs. the World."
According to Scarborough, in the face of Krugman's arguments, "maintaining calm was not ... easy for Council on Foreign Relations president Richard Haass, who agrees with former Joint Chief chairman Michael Mullen, that long-term debt poses the greatest threat to America's national security." They both agree, moreover, with "former Clinton chief of staff Erskine Bowles ... that entitlements and debt are the most pressing challenges we face as a country over the next few decades."
Scarborough also notes:
You can add my liberal co-host, Mika Brzezinski, to that group. Mika let out a gasp when Mr. Krugman suggested Medicare and Medicaid shortfalls should be ignored. She compared Krugman's "head-in-the-sand" approach to the one taken by climate change deniers.
Krugman's response to Brzezinski, noted above, inspired a "spirited email from former Treasury official and 'Morning Joe' regular Steve Rattner in defense of Mika's analogy."
What Scarborough fails to note in this follow-up is that none of the people he mentions above are economists, much less economists even close to Krugman's stature. Indeed, it's hard to see what training or expertise that a talk-show host feels qualified him or her to argue at all, "liberal" or not.
The two people Scarborough cited with direct experience in economic policy in government-Erskine Bowles and Steven Rattner-are also deeply connected to the worlds of banking and corporate finance, both of which are interested in keeping profits where they are rather than tackling job losses, purchasing power, and housing security experienced by the middle class in recent decades via Keynesian intervention in the economy.
In other words, they are operating on the basis of ideology-one that may be widely shared by the corporate-funded political elite in Washington, but not one that has demonstrated itself to be helpful to the hundreds of millions of Americans who have failed to see much in the way of benefits since our economic recovery began in 2009.
If Rendell, Udall, Bennet, Bowles, Simpson, Scarborough, or anyone else can refute - with facts and figures, not feelings - Krugman they should do so.
If they can't, they should listen to the experts and enact a stimulus that will for once and all end the Great Recession of the 21st Century and finally get this economy rolling again...for everyone.