Defending Krugman from Yves Smith, by @DavidOAtkins

Defending Krugman from Yves Smith

by David Atkins

Yves Smith over at Naked Capitalism has a long piece today bashing Paul Krugman for his post about Americans Elect.

Yves Smith is upset with Krugman for supposedly praising the Obama presidency and touting deficit cuts. While I'm sure that Krugman can adequately defend himself, the criticism here is simply bizarre. Here's Smith:

Paul Krugman’s partisanship has become so shameless that we are giving him the inaugural Eric Schneiderman Decoy Award for his post “Things Fall Apart“. The Schneiderman Decoy Award goes for exceptional achievement in turning one’s good name over to particularly rancid Obama Administration initiatives.

Krugman’s post didn’t merely contain some cringe-making fawning over Obama; it was egregiously incorrect on the development that prompted the post, that of the death of Americans Elect, a shadowy group that had was out to sponsor a Presidential candidate. It’s hard to believe that Krugman does not know the orientation and aims of this failed effort...

And why does Krugman want us to believe this “centrist” organization was doomed? Not because it was a vehicle for deficit hawkery that would get traction only if Bloomberg took up its mission, but because all sensible real centrists will of course vote for Obama...

There is another sneaky bit in this. Notice Krugman’s endorsement of deficit reduction (at least in part) by spending cuts, rather than via increasing growth? And also keep in mind that when the private sector delevers, unless the country runs a trade surplus, the government sector has to run a deficit to accommodate the desire of households and businesses to save. Krugman hopefully knows better than this. So why is he now starting to talk what sounds like austerity lite?

The Dems are tying to put together a Grand Bargain once again. There is apparently a push to get a deal done before the election but the folks I consider credible don’t see that happening. There is a possibility that we hit the deficit ceiling pre-election, which each party is likely to use to scapegoat the other, but odds favor the Administration coming out the loser. So in addition to the usual Obama hagiography, Krugman is also seeding the idea that a deficit cutting deal would be a good move.
Paul Krugman endorsing austerity and cuts to social services? That would indeed be news. So what did Krugman actually say?

What went wrong? Well, there actually is a large constituency in America for a political leader who is willing to take responsible positions — to call for more investment in the nation’s education and infrastructure, to propose bringing down the long-run deficit through a combination of spending cuts and tax increases. And there is in fact a political leader ready and willing (maybe too willing) to play that role; his name is Barack Obama.

So why Americans Elect? Because there exists in America a small class of professional centrists, whose stock in trade is denouncing the extremists in both parties and calling for a middle ground. And this class cannot, as a professional matter, admit that there already is a centrist party in America, the Democrats — that the extremism they decry is all coming from one side of the political fence. Because if they admitted that, they’d just be moderate Democrats, with no holier-than-thou pedestal to stand on.

Americans Elect was created to appeal to this class of professional centrists — which meant that it was doomed to go nowhere.
Krugman calls the President too willing to accept austerity measures. He mocks the pseudo-centrists. He points out that the Democratic Party is in part centrist party aligned with the Thomas Friedmans of the world as it is. If they want a candidate to vote for, they already have one.

None of that is to endorse austerity. It's to point out that there is, in fact, no real political constituency for their backward policies that isn't already occupied by the President--for better or for worse.

What has Smith truly incensed is that Krugman is being too partisan. In this both Smith and the plutocrats at TED have something in common. Smith is annoyed that Krugman is not calling a pox on both houses and describing the two parties as functionally equivalent. That rather than condemning the President outright for pushing austerity-lite, Krugman is suggesting to the small band of centrists that they already have a candidate to vote for, while forcing them to take a good look at the austerity-on-steroids of the Paul Ryan types and put the "extremism" label where it belongs.

Well, on that count Mr. Krugman and I are guilty as charged. We're not so intellectually dishonest as to claim that the two parties are equivalently bad, no matter how much distaste we may have for the President's deference to austerity-lite and eagerness to bend over backwards to refute conservative mythmaking.

As bad as the Tom Friedmans of the world are, they're not Paul Ryan. Moreover, there is a large faction of the Democratic Party that is genuinely progressive, and that continues to push its message forward via actions like the People's Budget. It serves a distinctly progressive purpose to chide the fools like Tom Friedman over their implicit rejection of "both sides". After all, if the President is appropriately seen as occupying the "center" rather than the "left," then that carves out room for the real "left" to be heard. As opposed to trashing Paul Ryan and the President with an equivalent brush, which is both untrue and more importantly makes anyone not already converted to the progressive message simply stop listening.

Paul Krugman understands his politics here. He understands his audience. And he's being savvy about his tactics. One could wish the same were true of everyone.