Paul Krugman is one of the American left’s foremost public intellectuals. He received a Nobel Peace Prize in Economics for his work in trade theory and is currently a professor at City University of New York. For years he has spent time writing regular columns for the New York Times and making the case for himself as America’s leading partisan hack. Do not get me wrong, Krugman is a fantastic economist in his field of expertise but when he takes off his academic hat and puts on his public intellectual that he loses every shred of honesty he has. A prime example of this is a recent op-ed he wrote in the New York Times.
I do not want to talk about Krugman’s thesis but rather his set up– three egregiously dishonest claims specifically.
Before I go on, let me be clear. Paul Krugman is not stupid. He is not ignorant. As I said earlier, Krugman has a Nobel Peace Prize. He is a professor at City University of New York, the London School of Economics and formally at Princeton and MIT. When he makes egregiously– and demonstrably– wrong claims it is because he means to.
1. “Why do we have much higher poverty than our economic peers, especially among children…”
Here we have an example of dishonesty in terms of being intentionally misleading rather than outright lying. America does have a higher child poverty in terms relative poverty but not in terms of absolute poverty. Absolute poverty is measured at a single line while the relative poverty line changes from country to country. The problem with relative poverty is that the change from country to country keeps the comparison from being apples to apples. Michael Petrilli makes this point in National Review. Our absolute poverty rate is lower than the United Kingdom and Ireland while essentially the same as Germany’s and Finland’s.
2. “… much higher infant mortality despite the sophistication of our medical system?”
The infant mortality claim is a common claim among left wingers. Like the belief America has a higher child poverty rate, it ignores critical facts. In this case, Krugman and others ignore there is not one set definition of infant mortality. As Matt Palumbo points out, in his book “The Conscience of a Young Conservative”, what qualifies as an infant death changes from country to country. Switzerland does not count babies under thirty centimeters into their rate. America does. Death within twenty-four hours is qualified as a stillbirth in Japan and Hong Kong and miscarriages in other countries. America does not have these loopholes. Palumbo goes on the point out that while Norway is ranked thirteenth and America is ranked forty-sixth if weight is taken into account, the two countries become tied.
Palumbo also points out how likely a country is to save infants is an alternative measure which can avoid the pitfalls of differences between countries. Between 1936 and 2010, one-hundred and ten babies were born weighing four-hundred grams or less and survived. Over seventy percent were born in America. Forty-two of the fifty-two born after 2000 were born in America.
3. “The more blacks, the less compassion white voters feel.”
First the full quote:
The answer, of course, comes down to politics: We are uniquely unwilling to take care of our fellow citizens. And behind that political difference lies one overwhelming fact: the legacy of slavery. All too often, white Americans think of the social safety net not as something for people like themselves fallen on hard times, but as a giveaway to Those People.
This isn’t idle speculation. If you want to understand why policies toward the poor are so different at the state level, why some states offer so much less support to troubled families with children, one predictor stands out: the African-American share of the population. The more blacks, the less compassion white voters feel.
This claim is not just egregiously wrong and unsubstantiated but, frankly speaking, morally disgusting. Krugman’s claim is simple enough. White Americans still suffer from racism and the more African Americans in an area, the less likely white American’s are going to want the government to provide welfare since it helps them. Of course, this ignores simple ideological differences that are not a result of racism.
Regardless, we can test Krugman’s theory. Republican states break down into two groups. Southern Republican states and midwestern Republican states. Southern Republican states have large African-American populations while midwestern Republican states have some of the smallest African-American populations. If Krugman is right and racism is the driving factor we would expect welfare policies to be more generous in midwestern Republican states when compared to southern republican states. On the other hand, if Krugman is wrong, we would expect midwestern states to either have less generous or equally generous welfare policies.
Of the states that have the ten lowest African-American populations, six of them, Idaho, Utah, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, and South Dakota have voted Republican in the last three national elections. Based on Krugman’s own source, these six states are all in the bottom twenty-five of welfare generosity, ranging from third to twenty-fourth, to poverty ratio, the figure Krugman is referencing.
Lastly, Occam’s razor tells us to select the theory with the fewest assumptions. Differences in politics is a far simpler assumption than an evil racist conspiracy. Furthermore, it is a far simpler assumption to believe Paul Krugman is lying than the Nobel Peace Prize is willfully ignorant of simple facts and is incapable of basic logic.