Monday, November 18, 2002
Why couldn't he take a longer vacation? The New York Times' columnist Paul Krugman has returned from a week off, and once again sees pure evil and villany in everything the Bush administration does.
In Tuesday's column, Krugman takes to task Bush's plan to privatize some of the government bureaucracy. Now, I don't feel strongly about this plan one way or another. Bureaucracy is bureaucracy whether it be in the public or private sectors.
But where Krugman really goes off the deep end is when he looks for underlying motives -- which are always sinister.
First, it's about providing political cover. In the face of budget deficits as far as the eye can see, the administration -- determined to expand, not reconsider the program of tax cuts it initially justified with projections of huge surpluses -- must make a show of cutting spending. Yet what can it cut? The great bulk of public spending is either for essential services like defense and the justice system, or for middle-class entitlements like Social Security and Medicare that the administration doesn't dare attack openly.
OK, let's check Krugman's accusations against the Krugman economic plan.
It appears as though Krugman is against the expansion of the Bush tax cuts, yet just over a month ago Krugman wrote this:
If these elements (extended unemployment benefits and aid to the states) don't add up to a large enough sum -- I agree with Mr. Madrick that $100 billion over the next year is a good target -- why not have another rebate, this time going to everyone who pays payroll taxes?
It should be noted that Krugman also wants to cancel the Bush tax cut. Apparently tax cuts are only acceptable if they're the right kind of tax cuts. Also in Krugman's plan he does not push to cut spending. Krugman is fine with deficit spending -- as long as it's the right kind of deficit spending.
I'm also surprised at Krugman's characterization of Social Security as a "middle-class" entitlement. I've been lectured by several liberals, and Krugman has noted, that Social Security is a safety net -- that's why personal accounts should never be considered.
Krugman speculates that Bush's plan is a return to the spoils system.
The federal civil service, with its careful protection of workers from political pressure, was created specifically to bring the spoils system to an end; but now the administration has found a way around those constraints.
We don't have to speculate about what will follow, because Jeb Bush has already blazed the trail. Florida's governor has been an aggressive privatizer, and as The Miami Herald put it after a careful study of state records, "his bold experiment has been a success ? at least for him and the Republican Party, records show. The policy has spawned a network of contractors who have given him, other Republican politicians and the Florida G.O.P. millions of dollars in campaign donations."
What's interesting about this network of contractors isn't just the way that big contributions are linked to big contracts; it's the end of the traditional practice in which businesses hedge their bets by giving to both parties. The big winners in Mr. Bush's Florida are companies that give little or nothing to Democrats. Strange, isn't it? It's as if firms seeking business with the state of Florida are subject to a loyalty test.
It's interesting that Krugman chooses the president's brother, Florida Governor Jeb Bush, to illustrate the spoils system. In California, he could've used Gov. Gray Davis to illustrate a Democratic version of the spoils system. Here, after the state prison guard's union contributed several hundred thousand dollars to Davis' re-election campaign, Davis decided not to renew the contracts for private prisons here in California. Private prisons that were shown to actually save taxpayers' money.
My point, once again, is that both sides do it.
Krugman seems to be dismayed that the party in power gets more money from business than the party out of power. Did a turnip truck just pass by here?