Wednesday, May 29, 2002
Reading Comprehension 101: The New York Times Paul Krugman is probably my favorite foil. He is a very intelligent man, but is also, oftentimes, very unwise. But this isn't about Krugman. This is about some of his defenders -- Krugmanites.
Now, not all Krugmanites suffer from this disability, but last week's Krugman piece brought two of them out of the woodwork and their comments made me shake my head in disbelief. It seems that some Krugmanites read what I write, recognize it as an attack on Krugman, and then go berserk. However, they never truly comprehend what I'm saying. To quote comedian Chris Tucker: "Do you understand the words that are coming out of my mouth?"
On occasion I am not always in tip-top form when it comes to explaining my I'm not always clear -- that comes from not having an editor looking over my shoulder late at night when I write this stuff. So, to make sure I wasn't to blame for poor sentence construction or ambiguous statements, I had one of my liberal-moderate copy editor friends take a look the Krugman piece and two of the comments which made me shake my head in bewilderment. She concurred with my assessment that both Krugmanites had poor reading comprehension skills.
I appreciate rational, thoughtful criticism. If everyone agreed with my opinions the world would be a nicer place, but I wouldn't have nearly as much fun writing for this blog.
Here's the reading comprehension lesson:
Comment by Demosthenes:
He (Krugman) has criticized Clinton's policies many times, and Reagan's as well. Steel is Bush's screwup, not Clinton's. Let him take the heat.
What I said:
Krugman says that the president's decision was made for political gain and is anti-free trade -- and he's right.
Looks like I was letting Bush take the heat, doesn't it? I love when I get criticized for agreeing with Krugman by a Krugmanite.
Comment by Jeff Hauser:
I'm not exactly sure why, oter [sic] than that he gets his facts right and they don't look pretty for the Bushies, that Krugman pisses everyone off. But I do know he leads the Right to bizzare claims, such as that "GATT" and "NAFTA" are synonymous. How do you disprove a Krugman claim re the former by pointing out a counterexample involving the latter?
If Hauser had read Krugman's piece, he would have discovered that Krugman was talking about how the U.S., over the past 20+ years had done it's best to stick to the letter of the trade agreements it had signed -- until Bush 43 and his steel tariff decision.
What I said:
I won't address what did or didn't happen during the Reagan years. The pre-Web days of the '80s are difficult to research late at night solely using Internet sources. However, Krugman's claim that Clinton stuck to the strict letter of U.S. trade agreements throughout his 8-year term is false.
The most obvious, most recent and most well-known case was the Clinton administration's refusal to allow Mexican trucks into the U.S., as was required by NAFTA.
I didn't write anything about GATT and NAFTA being synonymous. What I did point out was that both are trade agreements.
Krugman wrote: "Everyone understood that there were certain things that you didn't do, no matter how convenient they might be in terms of short-term political advantage."
It would be a shallow (and I believe incorrect) reading of Krugman's column to suggest, as Hauser apparently does, that Krugman believes that it is OK to violate NAFTA, but not OK to violate GATT (now incorporated in the World Trade Organization).
Finally, on Hauser's Web site, he quoted one of the other commentators for his brilliance, while referring to my pieces as "inane."
Comment by pj:
Here, he's (Krugman) making a broader point about treaties and Bush's disdain for them. But I agree with you about Krugman's strange obsession with critiquing the president. For example, it's really strange to me that Krugman writes so much about the Bush administration instead of criticizing the trade decisions made by Harry Truman. So unbalanced.
See, pj gets part of it. The broader point is about treaties. YES! My point exactly. Bush violates the WTO when it's politically convenient. Clinton ignored NAFTA when it was politically convenient.
Unfortunately, in trying to get some sort of jab in at me, pj goes a little far afield. Harry Truman isn't an issue. Why? Well, if he'd comprehended my piece he would've seen that Krugman basically limited the issue to Ronald Reagan onward.
The Reagan administration, despite its free-trade rhetoric, was quite willing to protect industries for political gain; the most notable example was the "voluntary" restraint on Japanese car exports. Still, it was a firm rule that trade interventions had to be "GATT-legal" ? that is, they couldn't violate the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. (The GATT has since been incorporated into the rules of the World Trade Organization.) And that scrupulousness continued up to the end of the Clinton years. [Emphasis mine]
When I write these pieces I try not to go too far off the original topic. I also try not to make them so unwieldy that no one would want to read them. If I'd started addressing the trade policies of every president from Washington onward I'd be writing a book, not a blog.
Finally, Hauser, on his site, encourages his readers visit my site, and others like it, often.
BTW, I don't have the time to do it myself, but someone needs to do a comprehensive sweep of "blogs" that criticize Krugman and just mock the living hell out of them.
I welcome you. That's what the comments are there for.
I have some advice, though:
First: Read carefully.
Second: Form your arguments cogently.
You don't do your position any benefit when you make yourself look like an ideologue whose writing and cognitive abilities are questionable.