Count Me In With the Unsophisticated Six Year Olds

by Henry on May 10, 2011

Kindred Winecoff doesn’t like Paul Krugman’s elite-focused account of politics (see also Daniel Drezner for a rather milder version).

If Greenspan’s “with notably rare exceptions” deserves internet infamy, and it does, then surely Krugman’s less notable exceptions should too. As Drezner notes, Krugman’s examples—the Bush tax cuts and the Iraq war, mainly—were supported by majorities of the population. … What interests me about this isn’t that Krugman is playing fast and loose with his factual claims, or even stacking the deck in a blatantly partisan way. That’s par for his course. It’s that he thinks that a simple political explanation is just not feasible. Instead, some moral lesson is needed. If something bad happens, it must be because bad people are doing it. This is the political sophistication of a six year old. … Occam’s Razor can help us here. If there are tax cuts, maybe it’s because people wanted tax cuts. If there is Medicare Part D, maybe it’s because people wanted Medicare Part D. If there is a housing bubble, maybe it’s because public policy was skewed in ways that home ownership attractive, because that’s what people want. This might not work all the time, but as a first approximation this sort of thinking holds up fairly well. In the examples Krugman gives, it’s batting 1.000.

Um, getting away from the invective, not so much. I like much of Winecoff’s blogging on IPE, but the relevant political science here seems to me to support Krugman far more than it does Winecoff. International political economy scholarship (the field that Winecoff specializes in) tends to have an extremely stripped down, and bluntly unrealistic account of how policy is made. Typically, modelers in this field either assume that the “median voter” plays an important role in determining national preferences, or that various stylized economic interests (which they try to capture using Stolper-Samuelson, Ricardo-Viner and other approaches borrowed from economic theory) determine policy, perhaps as filtered through a very simple representation of legislative-executive relations.

However, actual work on how policy gets made suggests that this doesn’t work. On many important policy issues, the public has no preferences whatsoever. On others, it has preferences that largely maps onto partisan identifications rather than actual interests, and that reflect claims made by political elites (e.g. global warming). On others yet, the public has a set of contradictory preferences that politicians can pick and choose from. In some broad sense, public opinion does provide a brake on elite policy making – but the boundaries are both relatively loose and weakly defined. Policy elites can get away with a hell of a lot if they want to.

The result is that the relevant literature on policy making (located largely within comparative political economy and a growing debate within American politics) argues that elites play a very strong role in creating policies. Take one of the issues where Winecoff argues that Krugman is wrong – the Bush tax cuts. Here, the arguments in the political science literature do not start from the proposition that these cuts were driven by public desire for lower taxes. Instead, they involve debate between those who suggest that the cuts were deliberately crafted in ways that distort public perceptions and those who claim that this was unnecessary, since American public opinion on taxation is so inchoate as to give elites wide room for maneuver. More generally, in Andrea Campbell’s words,

Tax policy, regulatory policy—the laws and rules that have been key in fueling the rising share of national income claimed by the very rich—are extraordinarily complex. The public has no idea what to think of these policies (one reason pollsters don’t ask about them—to do so would merely elicit “nonattitudes”). There is for example considerable confusion about the incidence of various taxes across income groups.

and

One chief problem is that citizens simply don’t pay attention to such complex policies; another is that even if they did, they can’t figure out what their stances should be, and no one is helping them. Low salience and great ignorance make for a disastrous democratic brew.

A similar argument can be made about Medicare Part D. It is fair to say that the Medicare changes began in a shift in partisan patterns of competition over issues. However, it surely didn’t end there. In Andrea Campbell and Kimberly Morgan’s description.

The mobilization strategy of Republicans, and opening of the door to a major expansion of Medicare, also increased the activism and influence of organized interests. The collapse of bipartisan support for government cost controls in Medicare, coupled with the emergence of a budget surplus, eroded legislators’ discipline with regard to provider reimbursements. In addition, the determination of Republicans to enact a reform that relied heavily on private actors created an opening for those groups to extract benefits for themselves. For example, managed care companies could argue that they would not participate as insurance providers if reimbursement levels were not high enough, and employers could demand subsidies to assure their continued willingness to provide retiree drug benefits. All of this added to the cost of the bill. More generally, gaining the support of powerful interest groups was essential in passing a reform that was likely to garner little Democratic support and was viewed skeptically by more conservative Republicans.

I don’t know about the politics of housing policy – perhaps one can make a similar claim, perhaps not (political scientists, and political economists in particular have tended to overlook housing). But I suspect that one can. There is very wide variation in rates of home ownership across democracies. This may reflect differences in underlying preferences (maybe in an ideal world Germans don’t want to own their houses the same way that Americans do). But it also plausibly reflects huge differences e.g. in mortgage regulation which are largely driven by interest groups rather than voters themselves.

More generally, the point is clear. One can certainly make a reasonable case that electoral politics plays a more important role than Krugman acknowledges. But one cannot make a good case that policies of the kind that Winecoff describes are a simple reflection of public preferences. Or, at least, if one wants to make this case, one is going to have to make a detailed counter-case against a substantial body of research which seems to demonstrate the opposite. Elites play an extremely important role in US policy making, and to make an elite-centered argument is not to think like a six year old. It is to think in ways which accord with the relevant political science literature, as best as I know it.

Let me make it clear that I don’t want to bag on Winecoff in particular. He doesn’t like Krugman, and describes him in pretty harsh terms – but then Krugman’s own revealed preferences suggest that politesse is not a necessary condition for good debate. The problem here is a more general problem with the field of international political economy, which frankly (and I say this as someone who writes in the field and teaches it) has an extremely weak understanding of how policy is made. I’d like to see IPE and IR scholars and students being forced to read some of the relevant literature in comparative political economy. For example, Pepper Culpepper’s Quiet Politics and Business Power has some very nice discussion of the interplay between interest group clout and electoral considerations in policy making processes. Books like this don’t make it onto IPE core syllabi, but they really, really should. And as long as they don’t, IPE scholars will continue to make claims which fit badly with what we know about national level policy making.

{ 276 comments }

1

Bloix 05.10.11 at 11:12 pm

Is this an example of “an extremely weak understanding” or is it an example of lying? I cannot imagine how honest person could say that the tax cuts and the Iraq war took place because they were “supported by majorities.” The Bush administration was the passive conduit for the will of the people, is that the idea?

Medicare Part D happened because of the will of the people? Medicare Part D was passed in the dead of night, in an unprecedented legislative session, in which the vote was illegally held open for three hours after the bill had gone down to defeat while the Republican leadership literally bribed members to change their votes.
See http://voices.washingtonpost.com/ezra-klein/2010/03/lessons_from_the_medicare_pres.html

The housing bubble was the result of public policy? It had nothing to do with greedy Wall Street bankers who encouraged fraudsters to write impossible loans so that they couldbe packaged and sold to pension plans?

Sometimes people say things that reveal that they are genuinely not worth debating. They are simply lying sacks of shit and they need to be opposed, not reasoned with.

2

Bloix 05.10.11 at 11:17 pm

Oh, and by the way:

“One can certainly make a reasonable case that electoral politics plays a more important role than Krugman acknowledges. “

I don’t see how one can argue that electoral politics played a role in the tax cuts and the Iraq War, in light of the fact that Al Gore won the fucking election.

3

Lee A. Arnold 05.10.11 at 11:23 pm

I am afraid it is Winecoff who hasn’t been paying attention: Support for an invasion of Iraq DROPPED continuously from 74/20 in Nov 2001 to 53/41 in Aug 2002, and might have dropped even more. The polls only reversed when the Bush White House began the drumbeat about WMD’s, at that time. You may remember that this loss of support for an invasion of Iraq had been a news item several times that year. The WMD scare was necessary for public support — and also helped get Enron’s connivances with Cheney off the front pages, where it was becoming a very big story by the late summer. Yet public support for an invasion still stayed stuck in the mid-50’s until they trotted Colin Powell out in front of the UN in Feb 2003. The poll then bumped quickly up to 64/33 by the time of the invasion, Mar 2003. These are Gallup’s numbers; other polls showed even more of a drop in support. Scroll all the way to the bottom, here:
http://www.gallup.com/poll/1633/Iraq.aspx#4

I’ll leave Winecoff to do his own homework on the public’s real attitude to taxes. Only one inference can be drawn across many different polls. What you will find is that, when the question is saving Social Security and Medicare or getting tax cuts, the welfare state wins every time — and the public wants the richest to pay even more. Public support for the Bush Tax Cuts was entirely dependent upon a careful avoidance of mentioning that quid pro quo, by the elites. Greenspan, the Peterson Foundation, the Republican Party, and half the Democratic Party are always very, very careful to separate the issues. First they talk about tax cuts and how wonderful it will make the economy, and then three or four months we always hear, “Oh by the way, we are spending too much on Medicare.” Complete nonsense and it is engineered by the elites so cleverly that it fools college professors into believing that it is the public’s opinion.

4

Bloix 05.10.11 at 11:56 pm

“The WMD scare was necessary for public support.”

I remember having dinner with a French couple in July 2002, who wanted to know if the US was going to invade Iraq. “No,” I said, “it looked like we were going to but now it’s clear that Saddam had nothing to do with 9/11 so that’s not going happen.”

Little did I know that they were busy working up the WMD advertising campaign. Remember how crass they were about it?

”From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August.”
ANDREW H. CARD Jr., White House chief of staff, on why the Bush administration waited until September to press for public support of its Iraq policy.
http://www.nytimes.com/2002/09/07/nyregion/quotation-of-the-day-766518.html

5

kth 05.11.11 at 12:26 am

Drinking game: if one of the interlocutors (won’t say which), replying to the fairly indisputible observation that wide swathes of the American public are disengaged from politics and will sign off on just about anything that doesn’t raise their taxes or cut their goodies, invokes “tacit consent” to insist that they are still the responsible party, you have to finish whatever is in your glass.

6

Straightwood 05.11.11 at 12:52 am

An examination of the character of Karl Rove is all that is required to support Krugman’s thesis of irresponsible and incompetent elites. This “Mayberry Machiavelli” could in no way be described as a public servant. He was a cynical manipulator of public opinion relentlessly pursuing the the political agendas of his patron(s). To suppose that a creature like Rove was simply responding to the wishes of the public is lunacy.

7

politicalfootball 05.11.11 at 1:05 am

If there is a housing bubble, maybe it’s because public policy was skewed in ways that home ownership attractive, because that’s what people want.

It’s amazing to me that alleged scholars will say unbelievably stupid shit like this. You can knock Krugman for being rude if you like, but what are you supposed to say about this? I promise you that very few people actually supported – or even understood – the predatory lending, unregulated derivatives, etc. that caused the housing bubble.

8

christian_h 05.11.11 at 1:33 am

So… why should we seriously engage someone who doesn’t only not address the question of how elite discourse shapes poll results (I won’t say “public opinion” since as Bourdieu put it, “nothing is more inadequate for representing the state of opinion than a percentage”), but apparently believes that it’s not a relevant question to address?

There is not even any doubt that neither the tax cuts, nor the Iraq war, would have happened if they weren’t pushed by political, business, and media elites.

9

MPAVictoria 05.11.11 at 1:52 am

“There is not even any doubt that neither the tax cuts, nor the Iraq war, would have happened if they weren’t pushed by political, business, and media elites.”

Exactly right. All of these policies were pushed relentlessly by the media at every opportunity. It also should be noted that both the tax cuts and the Iraq war were pushed with lies. The Bush administration repeatedly claimed that the majority of the tax cuts were aimed at the middle class and the poor, which we all know was false, and they also claimed that Iraq had WMDs, which we now also know was false.

10

LFC 05.11.11 at 2:36 am

Slightly — but only slightly — OT, for one example of the somewhat astounding stuff some IPE scholars will say with a straight face, here’s something I just ran across the other day: Jeffrey Frieden’s remark (in a book review in Perspectives on Politics, December 2010) apropos Jude Hays’ Globalization and the New Politics of Embedded Liberalism that perhaps — just perhaps — “workers in the majoritarian liberal market economies [as opposed to what Hays calls consensus corporatist systems] are willing to suffer more volatile wages and employment without demanding more social programs [and here’s the good part:] because they make up the difference in easily found replacement jobs and relatively higher wages.” (p.1257)

Easily found replacement jobs? Like a laid-off coal miner going to work in a Burger King?

11

JRoth 05.11.11 at 2:36 am

OK, lesson learned: discount anything Winecoff has to say rather heavily.

12

PHB 05.11.11 at 2:39 am

What the public supported and what they got were completely different things.

People supported the idea that their taxes would go down. What happened was that 70% of the money spent went to reducing taxes for the richest 0.5% of the population, the rest got crumbs.

People supported the idea of nailing the perpetrators of 9/11. What happened was that the hunt for Bin Laden was abandoned to divert resources for the war Bush/Cheney preferred in Iraq. Bush did not make eliminating or capturing Bin Laden a priority, anyone who claims otherwise is simply lying.

The fact that people responding to an intentionally ambiguous opinion poll appeared to give support for the elite policy is irrelevant. What people wanted, what they were told they were going to get and what the Republican party gave them were entirely different.

But that was then and times have changed since.

Most people under 40 do not get their news through the establishment media any more. People under 30 know to mistrust the New York Times and the Washington Post. As for network television, it is irrelevant to them.

The right wing echo chamber was a short term benefit and a long term liability to the GOP. Now they are trapped inside it eating their own propaganda and none of them are listening to anyone telling them that they are completely nuts.

Obama is playing the GOP like a fine fiddle. Most Democrats thought he was nuts when he went and offered to compromise with them on the budget. But with only a few nods and expressions of interest the GOP was more than happy to lay their whole plan on the table: The Ryan budget to phase out Medicare, Medicare and Social Security.

Thats what the GOP wants to do. Every one of them that voted for the Ryan budget was voting to take 2.7 trillion out of ordinary American’s pensions and health care to pay for $2.7 trillion in new taxes to billionaires. That was what the plan was about.

13

Kindred Winecoff 05.11.11 at 3:06 am

Hitting too hard, Henry. I was protesting Krugman’s moralism, and suggesting that even the most simplistic view of politics suggests an interest-based explanation works better. I disagree with little that you wrote (I’d go further on some points), but I have no idea why you’re sticking up for Krugman here.

http://ipeatunc.blogspot.com/2011/05/7-year-old-politics.html

14

StevenAttewell 05.11.11 at 3:23 am

So…you’ve been proven wrong on several major factual points (the war, Medicare Part D), there’s additional objection to some of your other examples (i.e, the electorate didn’t know what was in the tax cuts or housing policy, and soured on the tax cuts really quickly (NBC/WSJ in Oct 05: were the tax cuts worth it, yes 39%, no 53%)), and most cutting-edge political science looks at interest-based explanations the same way that we look at pre-Einsteinian physics (BARTELS! – ahem), but we’re too hard on you?

How about some evidence as to why you’re not wrong?

15

Sebastian 05.11.11 at 3:35 am

oh no Kindred, that won’t fly. You persistently read Krugman in the most uncharitable way possible and now ask for a charitable reading of your own posts?
Let me summarize:
Brooks: It’s the stupid electorate that ‘s gotten us into this mess, we really need smart elites to get us out.
Krugman: Are you kidding me? Those policies were elite driven and not due to some stupid electorate.
Winecoff: But public opinion favored those policies! It was the public after all!
Farrel: Dude, that’s not how policy is made.
Winecoff: Yeah, I agree, but that doesn’t matter and I hate Krugmen
Readers: ????

The first thing that you do, and you do that all the time with Krugman, is leave out act I and take his argument out of context, remove it from the debate with Brooks. Then you claim that he’s making a much broader claim than he is actually making.
In this case what’s especially amusing is that you now complain that Henry – who actually reads you pretty accurately – is doing this to you…
I just don’t get the sense that you have any interest in addressing Krugman’s arguments fairly. Maybe you should just lay off your Krugman blogging for some time, even though it’s going to cost you a couple of links from Tyler Cowen…

16

Kindred Winecoff 05.11.11 at 3:58 am

SA14 – I wasn’t proven wrong on any factual points. A majority of the public supported the Iraq war, the Bush tax cuts, and prescription drug coverage in Medicare at the time those policies were put in place. Medicare Part D is still very popular, and the Bush tax cuts are still popular too (majority support is only for repeal of the cuts on the richest 2%, and even that only got a plurality until recently). Whether the public formed these views under false pretenses is another question. As is whether they had buyer’s response ex post facto.

I’m sorry, but your view that cutting-edge poli-sci views interest-based explanations as obsolete is just wrong. Bartels is just one guy, not especially cutting-edge (tho very good), and merely argues that we need a more rigorous view of interest than homo economicus. (FWIW, I agree with him.) His most recent working paper, eg, examines how partisans of different stripes weight different issues (ie interests) differently. He has a lot about how voters use partisan cues as heuristics, b/c they are not informed enough to be homo economicus. Elites, otoh, are better informed, and are therefore better able to influence policy according to economic interests.

Anyway, I’m not sure what journals you’re reading, but interest-based explanations of politics are still very much the norm in every flagship academic journal. And both Krugman and Farrell are arguing that interest-based explanations; they just want them to be focused on the interests of elites rather than mass publics.

17

Martin Bento 05.11.11 at 4:03 am

I think it also worth putting an arrow into the accusation, which Obama has also echoed, that the homeowners with bad mortgages are to blame for taking loans they could not afford. I know some people did not know what they were getting, but personally know people who did know they were getting raw deals and were perfectly rational to take them, given that they had the same assumption that the elite apparently did: that home prices would continue to go up. Interest-only, adjustable, even neg. amortization: all are perfectly fine if you can manage the payments for three years and values are going up 20% a year. After 3 years, you sell or refi. Of course, it was ridiculous to expect prices to only go up, but the elites got bailed out and generous bonuses after making that mistake. Janitors and secretaries are getting lectured on how they should have known better. What kind of elite is held to lower intellectual standards than the hoi polloi? And let us not forget that Alan Greenspan called homeowners who went for old-fashioned amortized loans irrational.

Another question is how those who defend elitism can exonerate the elite even if the face of foolish public opinion. The elite have considerable power to defy and shape public opinion (which they used to bad effect here). The public certainly did not force them to deregulate derivatives or invade Iraq. If they cannot defy public opinion when they know better, why should they have the power to defy it at all? Of course, this is kind of like arguing from a parallel universe where Winecoff’s premise is not absurd. Winecoff should have the cleanest pigs in Washington; he certainly is in possession of the purest hogwash.

18

Kindred Winecoff 05.11.11 at 4:16 am

Sebastian, I didn’t ask for charity (“just desserts”, “lazy”, etc.) but I do think Farrell inferred things I didn’t write, associated them with the sort of IPE he hates, and went from there. I’m not upset about that. I should’ve been more clear from the beginning. I also wasn’t writing an IPE research article. I was reacting off-the-cuff to the most recent instance of Krugman’s moralizing. Anyway, as an object lesson for the betterment of IPE I’m happy to be an illustrative case.

I don’t think I’m mischaracterizing Krugman. (I don’t read Brooks, so you’re right that I didn’t address that context. But Krugman’s piece was a standalone op-ed in the NY Times. It lives or dies on its own.) Moreover, you’re the first person to say that I did. And I didn’t back down from the argument that mass publics matter, at all. I think it would be very difficult for you to find more than one or two political scientists who would.

More generally, I don’t “leave out act I” when going after Krugman on purpose; it’s just that (as in this case) he often doesn’t link to those he’s arguing against, or otherwise reference them. It’s always “Very Serious People” or “many people are saying” or “it’s becoming common belief” or somesuch. Moreover, I have no need to carry anyone else’s particular torch. I link to Krugman when I criticize him. If folks want to know the full context, they can click through. That’s how blogs work.

As for link-bait, that’s also how blogs work, esp for the minnows. But not Cowen. He’s only linked to me once, awhile ago. I do agree that I need to lay off Krugman. It gets boring, even for me. But I can’t help myself, and he’s the most prominent political economy pundit with academic cred.

19

Straightwood 05.11.11 at 4:43 am

The accusation of “moralizing” seems to imply that there are no Machiavels in the governments of the world. Yet there is abundant evidence that deliberate lies are routinely employed to secure political objectives, and that crude quid-pro-quo calculation underlies much policy.

The rich got their tax cuts in America because they paid for them with political donations and retainers to lying thugs like Karl Rove. There are “malefactors of great wealth” and Krugman is right to denounce their cynical political flunkies on moral grounds.

If you can separate dishonesty from immorality, then you can invalidate Krugman’s claim. It is the calculated dishonesty of American “conservatives” that Krugman hammers at almost every day, and we should be thankful that such a quaint moralist survives in the commentariat.

20

piglet 05.11.11 at 4:57 am

“Occam’s Razor can help us here. If there are tax cuts, maybe it’s because people wanted tax cuts.”

Granted that people may have wanted tax cuts but that doesn’t explain why a particular kind of tax cuts – one that favored a tiny minority of super-rich – was enacted rather than the kind that people would actually have preferred. Occam’s Razor can be dangerous in the hands of unsophisticated children.

21

anon/portly 05.11.11 at 5:52 am

On many important policy issues, the public has no preferences whatsoever. On others, it has preferences that largely maps onto partisan identifications rather than actual interests, and that reflect claims made by political elites (e.g. global warming). On others yet, the public has a set of contradictory preferences that politicians can pick and choose from. In some broad sense, public opinion does provide a brake on elite policy making – but the boundaries are both relatively loose and weakly defined. Policy elites can get away with a hell of a lot if they want to.

This seems reasonable, but maybe the key thing is not so much public opinion as it stands but its potential – i.e. it doesn’t matter so much whether a policy is well-understood or popular at the time of its implementation as whether the other side will be able to make it unpopular. The Democrats (and/or the ill effects of the policies themselves) were unable to make Iraq or the tax cuts unpopular enough to defeat Bush in 2004; hence, you could say they were popular enough. Perhaps on the other hand Bush’s idea to privatize Social Security went nowhere because the Democrats would have made it very unpopular.

As to asset price bubbles, if we assume they actually exist it seems to me that they are very popular with many voters, and any political party that ever tried to implement a policy specifically designed to reduce asset values would be nuts.

22

christian_h 05.11.11 at 5:58 am

If Krugman was in fact blaming the evilness of individuals the charge of “moralizing” might be justified. I don’t read him that way. It’s the interests of “elites” that matter because they are actually the ones that wield power. I’d say “ruling lass”, but “elites” will do in a pinch. Most certainly the idea that any of these policies (with the possible exception of Medicare Part D, on which Krugman explicitly write that a drug benefit had public support in principle) were implemented because of a priori public support is too laughable to be seriously discussed. Maybe academic journals are full of that kind of nonsense – that doesn’t make it any less nonsensical.

Kindred makes three fundamental theoretical mistakes: One, he mistake the result of an opinion poll for the complex reality that is the opinion of the masses; two, he mistakes correlation for causality; and three, he ignores completely the way ruling class ideology as transmitted by media, entertainment, the organization of daily life, impacts on and shapes public opinion. Maybe this is a feature of IPE rather than Winecoff, but I always find it fascinating when liberal social scientist write as if 150 years of Marxist thought did not exist; although of course in the case of the Bush tax cuts or the Iraq war one doesn’t have to be a Marxist to recognize that whatever public support they may have had was obviously the product of massive propaganda unleashed by elites intent on forming the very public support needed as an excuse to implement these policies.

23

Kindred Winecoff 05.11.11 at 6:03 am

SW19, Nope. I’d accept that politics is full of nothing but Machiavels if it pleased you. But then he was notoriously amoral, wasn’t he? (My own normative view is that a few percentage point marginal tax cut on the rich vs the kinda-rich isn’t a moral issue at all, insofar as both groups have the same underlying motivation, but to each her own.) Slice it any way you please, Karl Rove or whoever your bogeyman is has no influence without a populace that put his guy in power. Supply side lies deceived the public? Fine, the public was deceived. (In the case of the Bush tax cuts, there was plenty of information in the public domain about how much they’d cost, from the CBO and elsewhere. Same with Medicare Part D.) Nevertheless, they supported the policy in general terms at least. That’s all I’m saying.

Or, to put it another way, ~52% of Americans in a recent poll supported eliminating the Bush tax breaks on the top 2%, when the question is phrased that way. ~46% opposed. This is up from December, when the Democrats caved and the polls placed those in favor of extending the cuts over 50%. In other words, during the midst of a huge budget gap, 46% of Americans wished to *not* enact a policy that clearly benefitted at least 44% of them, in homo economicus terms. Maybe the elite is manipulating that. Maybe they don’t need to. Citing to the influence of elites doesn’t answer the question.

Pig20, True. But elite opinion differed. Krugman, for example, is an elite. He did not support the Bush tax cuts. In fact, the entire Democratic party, and all the elites within it, did not. Which elites get to decide? See my point? Explanations centered only on elites don’t get us very far. The elites that decide policy are the elites that are elected. The elites that are elected are the ones that get the most votes under the electoral rules in a jurisdiction, which involves satisfying mass publics and important interest groups. Both matter for setting the broad agenda. Elites matter for the precise terms. Tweak relative importance based on how informed the public is, and how salient the issue is.

24

christian_h 05.11.11 at 6:07 am

I’m sorry but seriously, could you be any more naive about how liberal democracies work? Wow.

25

christian_h 05.11.11 at 6:11 am

Also, while we can debate until we’re blue in the face whether Bush was actually elected, there cannot be any debate about the question of whether he got the most votes. He did not. The “electoral rules in the jurisdiction” thing is a cop-out that applies to any system with elections, eg, East Germany – where the official popular front slate did in fact get the most votes “under the electoral rules in the jurisdiction” in every election.

26

Josh 05.11.11 at 6:21 am

What about the invasion of Grenada? Did that happen because the people wanted it? ‘Cause polls taken after it’d begun showed a lot of public support.

27

b9n10nt 05.11.11 at 7:05 am

Kindred Winecoff:

Whether the public formed these views under false pretenses is another question.

I understand the debate you join to be this: to what extent are American macroeconomic problems created by various policies (Bush’s tax cuts, Medicare drug prescription benefit, the Iraq war, etc…) the result of

a) elite and/or interest-group will

as opposed to

b) popular agency in an electoral democracy.

Thus, I struggle to understand in what manner the question of elite/interest group policy fraud becomes “another question”. The facts you cite about the popularity of Medicare Part D, or Bush’s tax cuts, only have relevance contra Krugman as an argument for the b>a hypothesis, which thus far has been refuted by the evidence of policy fraud, the (by yourself) unexplained conditional effects of public preferences*, and so forth. Another question? No. Very much one of the questions.

Unless, perhaps it goes like this:

Krugman: Elites, to the extent they needed the pubic, duped the public and wrote the policies that are causing macroeconomic problems

Winecoff: Meh, whether or not the public was duped is “another question”. I posit democratic agency and axiomatically discount the possibility of fraud, and thus am satisfied to find evidence of democratic approval in some polls.

or

Winecoff: Meh, whether or not the public was duped is “another question”. I posit democratic agency and thus policy fraud is effectively sanctioned by the public. We can separately investigate the ways in which fraudulently representing the policies to itself reflects the interests of the supporting public.

If you indeed have a more sophisticated view of policy creation, what then is the relevance of the public support you cite? And, again I’m stuck on this, why would false pretenses be irrelevant to that public support?

Or, to restate, the reliance on the evidence you offer (and unresponsiveness to counter evidence) implies an imprecise and inaccurate model of policy formation. And all you can accuse Krugman’s model of is imprecision. In an op-ed column. So then we’re back to sophistry. Cheers.

*Why should Washington quickly pander to the public’s supposed support for Bush’s tax cuts then but not ever its revealed preference to soak the rich?

Have I ironed that out sufficiently?

28

b9n10nt 05.11.11 at 7:18 am

Wow, I thought the words I was putting into Winecoff’s mouth were a little over the top. But then I read #23.

The public opinion poll is, for Winecoff, like the provocative dress that implicitly sanctions the violators designs.

29

Sebastian 05.11.11 at 7:37 am

Kindred – sorry for the link bait line – I was just irritated by the continuous Krugman bashing that I find relies on misreadings – willful or not – a lot of the times.
The reason Krugman doesn’t link to Brooks in his Op-Ed is that the NYT doesn’t allow infighting on his op-ed page – this is pretty well known and the Brooks-Krugman shadow fencing a well known and repeating feature of the Op-Ed pages.
But even if you didn’t know this – I thought you were reading his blog? He prepared the column a couple of days earlier, including link to Brooks.
http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/05/06/what-do-you-mean-we-white-man-deficit-edition/
And no, I don’t think an op-ed column needs to stand on its own. It’s part of an ongoing national conversation – if you don’t know who Krugman refers to when he talks about VSPs (a term which I find annoying and wish he didn’t use, but whatever) you maybe should read some more before addressing him. And I think you regularly misunderstand Krugman and claim he says something he doesn’t because you don’t bother to check what he’s actually arguing against.

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Area Man 05.11.11 at 7:47 am

“If there is a housing bubble, maybe it’s because public policy was skewed in ways that home ownership attractive, because that’s what people want.”

You can’t be serious.

Having public policy skewed in favor of home ownership cannot cause a housing bubble. The whole idea of a bubble is that constantly rising valuations are unsustainable; in other words, buying becomes irrational, but it keeps paying as long as other people keep buying. If public policy makes home ownership more attractive, this by itself will not cause an irrational buying spree, it will at most cause a one-time increase in home values, after which they level off. This is assuming you believe there were massive changes in public policy starting in the late 90s that encouraged people to buy houses that weren’t in place before, which as far as I can tell, there weren’t.

Another way to think about this is to ask precisely how public policy changed in 2007-2009 to make home ownership massively less attractive, since this is why you seem to think that people overbought homes to begin with. I am not aware of any such changes, and many to the contrary.

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Martin Bento 05.11.11 at 7:54 am

First of all, I think you will concede that elites and the public influence one another. Indeed the whole premise of your argument is that the public influences the elite. Do you concede that it runs the other way? On some questions, the public is going to find it difficult to deny elite opinion without falling into opinions that may have no basis at all. Was Saddam complicit in 9/11? Did he have WMDs? The public has no way to answer these questions directly, and if the question is put to them, they will rely on someone to supply an answer. Usually, they rely on the US elite, and any defender of elitism would have to argue they are right to do so, since the alternative is “crankery”. By providing answers or suggestions of answers to these questions, the elite influences public opinion. You seem to concede this, but want to set it aside as irrelevant. However, if we are to attribute agency without regard to influence, you have no argument at all. The decisions to cut taxes, go to Iraq, etc. were made by political elites. You are trying to argue that these elites should not be assigned full agency for these decisions because they were influenced by the public. But if you make that move, you also have to concede that public agency can be diminished if they are influenced by elites. It is not “another questions”. Take out the notion of influence and the elites are fully responsible for everything regardless of public opinion.

Let us look at what a war of Iraq driven by public opinion would look like. The public looks at the smoldering ruins of the twin towers and says “Bin Laden did this. Let’s go get Saddam!” Pundits in the media and spokespeople for the White House argue that this is irrational – that Saddam probably had nothing to do with 9/11, that he constitutes no threat to the US, that we should at least finish the job with Bin Laden first – but the public will have none of it. They don’t care about Bin Laden, they just hate the ‘stache.

Funny, that’s not how I remember it.

Occasionally, you can have a policy that is popularly-driven. Legalization of medical marijuana is probably the best recent example. Most states that have passed it have done so by ballot initiative, usually over the opposition of most of the elected representatives. There was little elite agitation for it beforehand. There was some – from libertarians, including people like Milton Friedman – but it was scattered and limited to the occasional Op Ed. Milty like to talk this way to seem consistent, but he didn’t actually do much to push for it. There was also support on the Left, but not from people credibly regarded as part of the political elite. The Iraq War and tax cuts were nothing at all like this.

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Phil 05.11.11 at 7:55 am

Winecoff:

If there are tax cuts, maybe it’s because people wanted tax cuts. If there is Medicare Part D, maybe it’s because people wanted Medicare Part D.

Krugman:

Americans weren’t clamoring for a tax cut in 2000; Bush pushed his tax cuts to please his donors and his base. … [Medicare Part D] was needlessly expensive, not because that’s the way the public wanted it — it could easily have been simply an addition to traditional Medicare — but to please the drug lobby and the anti-government ideologues.

I think refuting Krugman is going to take more than poll data, inasmuch as he’s talking about groups which have the power to set the terms within which most people’s preferences are formed, day to day and year to year. (Re-read Steven Lukes some time.) To put it another way, which one’s Pythagoras and what’s he standing on?

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Kindred Winecoff 05.11.11 at 7:56 am

b9etc: I’d characterize our positions thus:

1. Krugman: The public had nothing to do with policy. Only elites did. So let’s blame them, guys.

2. Me: That’s crazy. Elites have plenty to do with policy, but only within the bounds the public delineate. It’s not hard to find evidence that the public likes low taxes, lots of social services, and access to cheap credit. Why act like they don’t? (I’m being charitable to myself by mashing up my first and second posts, but only barely.)

3. Farrell: Elites are too important! And publics are confused. IPE needs to pay more attention to this.

4. Me: I never said elites weren’t important, that publics weren’t confused, or that IPE didn’t need to pay more attention to this. I only said that in democracies publics are also important, confused as they may be. As long as we’re assigning blame for policy failures, there’s plenty to go around.

5. Other people in thread: We concede your *entire* point that publics matter (without realizing or acknowledging it), but think that elites manipulate public opinion. Gotcha!

6. Me: Fine if you think that, but then the burden of proof turns on you. Start defining terms, start stockpiling evidence. I’m pretty cynical, so I’m probably on your side most of the time, but that isn’t the question we started with. I never said elites didn’t influence public opinion. Influencing public opinion is the whole goal of Krugman’s column, and the rest of the “marketplace of ideas”, including political campaigns. But none of that refutes #2 or #4. No gotcha.

I’d add that I’ve never suggested that elite preferences were different from popular preferences; the two can (and, I think, do) reinforce each other. Krugman sort of insinuated that they were diametrically opposed without saying it directly, and Farrell kind of ran with that, but I see no reason to start from that assumption. Some folks in this thread are just assuming that a) elites are unified; b) they are opposed to the public interest (whatever that means); c) the elites always get everything they want, and should therefore take sole blame for the 2008 crash and ensuing economic fallout. (But those same elites, of course, should not be credited for the 1990s boom. Or was there something else going on?)

Pardon me for wanting to take a closer look at each step before I put David Brooks (or anyone else) in the stocks.

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Martin Bento 05.11.11 at 8:22 am

And there are other things. In the piece, you argue that the public supported the Bush tax cuts, based on a poll that showed most people thought their taxes were too high. This doesn’t constitute support for the specific Bush tax cuts, but more than that, it doesn’t even constitute support for general tax cuts. If I think I should pay no taxes and everyone else’s should go up 10%, I am favoring a general tax increase. But my answer to the question “Do I think my taxes are too high” would be “yes”, and i therefore would be favoring a tax cut, as you interpret the poll, although I do not. More realistically, I may feel that some demographic to which I belong – the rich, the poor, the middle class, the self-employed, the married, the renters, etc. – is overtaxed, without feeling taxes in general are too high, so the poll does not necessarily support the conclusion you are drawing from it.

But more to the point is the ridiculousness of the question. It’s like asking: “Would you like to sleep with your favorite movie star?” Sure! “At the cost of your marriage?” Maybe not. “So you think the poor movie stars should have to sleep with anyone who wants them until they die of exhaustion?” That’s not what you asked! “I’m just generalizing from your answer.” Asking people questions directly concerning their self-interest with no regard for trade-offs will not get you meaningful answers.

BTW, if you drill down to where tradeoffs are examined, “increase taxes on the wealthy” significantly outpolls “cut taxes”. “Reduce the deficit” outpolls both, but of course increasing taxes on the wealthy furthers that end too, whereas cutting taxes is contrary to it., And increasing taxes on the wealthy is always popular. Taxes on the wealthy have been decreasing for decades. If the public is driving policy, why do you suppose that is?

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Kindred Winecoff 05.11.11 at 8:29 am

Sebastian29 – I read Krugman every day. But in this column, as with many of his columns and blog posts, he refers to some numerous hoard that he must stand guard against. In this case, it’s an opinion of “growing frequency from members of the policy elite — self-appointed wise men, officials, and pundits in good standing”. He’s not referring only to Brooks.

AreaMan30 – “This is assuming you believe there were massive changes in public policy starting in the late 90s that encouraged people to buy houses that weren’t in place before, which as far as I can tell, there weren’t.” What, you think it was a big accident? This will get too wonky for a comment, so I’ll just be suggestive: macroecon imbalances require capital inflows to US (these, themselves, involve multiple political economies in multiple countries, but I’m ignoring that for now); those gotta go somewhere. Following dot-com bubble + real exchange rate depreciation, non-tradables (eg housing) looks better than tradables. “Ownership society (mortgage interest deduction, etc.)” + regulatory privilege for ABS + Frannie (and Countrywide, etc.) generating mortgages waiting to be securitized provides supply. Demand for cheap-ass loans at historically-low interest rates is not inelastic. = Bubble. Pops when business cycle flips and people start defaulting. Makes ABS bad, leads to run on CDS and the broader banking sector.

You can call on “animal spirits” if you’d prefer, but I’d rather stay more grounded. Some fraud on the margins, yah, but that’s a constant; not nearly enough to explain the enormous bubble and ensuing crash. My story does not exonerate finance or gov’t elites. It just says that publics played a role in the original macroecon imbalances, and in the ways they were transmitted through the global economy.

Martin31, This whole thing started when Krugman said mass publics didn’t matter at all, and I disagreed. I have no story (for these purposes at least) about the precise feedback mechanisms that determine how and how much elites and publics influence each other. All I’m saying is that publics matter.

Phil32, Actually I don’t think Krugman is talking about that at all. I think he’s talking about Republicans, and a few squishy “third way” liberals, that were famous in the 2000s. You’re giving Krugman more credit than he deserves. He’s not advancing any sort of coherent structuralist argument, whether derived from Lukes or anyone else. He’s saying that his interlocutors in 2003 were wrong, and he was right, and therefore no one should listen to those other guys in 2011. That’s all.

I feel like Scott Sumner replying to all this. No guarantees that I keep it up. But I’m having fun.

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Martin Bento 05.11.11 at 8:36 am

If we’re going to talk about burdens of proof, you have to start with proximate causation,. The Iraq War and the tax cuts happened because the President and Congress of the United States caused them to happen, That is the direct causal mechanism. You are trying to argue a more remote level of causation. Therefore, you have the burden of proof. That Bush and Congress were causal mechanisms cannot be disputed, so we don’t need to prove this. You want to demand that we construct models and point to the one specific deregulation that caused the financial crisis (itself a 6 year-old’s notion of causation), while getting away yourself with vacuities like “publics matter”, and simply asserting the conclusion you want as a premise “As long as we’re assigning blame for policy failures, there’s plenty to go around.”

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dsquared 05.11.11 at 8:48 am

Kindred, think about how this logic might work in other areas; when a company makes the decision to sell a dangerous and harmful product, do you say that this is basically the responsibility of the people who buy it?

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Kindred Winecoff 05.11.11 at 8:53 am

Martin36, The President and Congress of the United States were elected (and re-elected) by the public. That a direct enough causal mechanism for you? If nothing else, the public is at least partially responsible for the quality of those they choose to represent them. Krugman’s preferred candidates have lost every presidential election over the past decade (he favored Hillary), and 4 of 5 Congressional elections, over his loud protestations. By his own justice that should count for something. And I don’t think it’s vacuous.

As for deregulation, the subprime crisis spread to 23 advanced industrial economies (per the IMF), all of which have different regulatory standards. Some of which (eg Spain) were praised for their tight regulatory structures before the crisis. I remain unconvinced that deregulation was a fundamental cause, even if it played a marginal proximate role in some cases. I’d prefer to focus on bigger movements in the global macroeconomy to explain a global crisis, especially one of this magnitude.

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Kindred Winecoff 05.11.11 at 9:05 am

DxD, Stacked deck. Does the company know that what they are selling is harmful? Does the public? Do you think that informed people who purchase Big Macs rather than arugula bear no responsibility for weight gain?

Put it another way. If Bush knew in advance his policies would destroy the economy, sink his party, and destroy his reputation and historical legacy, do you really think he wouldn’t’ve changed anything? How about Greenspan? Summers/Rubin/Paulson? If voters knew the outcome of these policies, might they have voted differently?

Keep in mind that all I’m trying to say is that policy isn’t created in a public-free vacuum, and the government is at least somewhat responsive to majority opinion, however screwy and confused it may be.

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sg 05.11.11 at 9:25 am

What a staggering level of naivete. Winecoff, are you serious in suggesting that the “Burden of proof” falls on us when we make statements like “elites manipulate public opinion” (as you did in comment 33)? Are we meant to assume from this that you think this is an idea open to dispute?

Do you also expect us to believe that the voting public in the US represent the full spectrum of public opinion, given that they represent a bare majority of the electorate? Do you believe that their opinion is not manipulated by, for example (and just for starters) presidential election campaigns? If this relationship is so pure, why is advertising so important in elections (or for that matter anywhere else)?

Do you think, for example, that the swift boaters who sank Kerry represented “public opinion”?

This stuff is so naive it’s scary.

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hopkin 05.11.11 at 9:44 am

I don’t see what is so difficult about this. Why on earth would donors pour millions and millions of dollars into candidates’ war chests if all they were going to do once elected was reflect public opinion (whatever that means)?

You can make an argument that voter preferences matter more than Krugman implies, but the basic point that elites broadly set agendas and make policy, and voters only get a limited choice over what they can vote for, is a pretty strong one.

By the way, I suggest reading Thomas Ferguson’s beautifully entitled paper ‘Deduced and Then Abandoned: Rational Expectations, the Investment Theory of Political Parties, and the Myth of the Median Voter’.

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dsquared 05.11.11 at 9:45 am

DxD, Stacked deck. Does the company know that what they are selling is harmful? Does the public?

We have the example of the tobacco industry, which also has the happy characteristic of the fact that the “elites” spent a considerable amount of time and energy on promoting false information about their harmful product, to keep the analogy accurate.

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Kindred Winecoff 05.11.11 at 9:55 am

sg, not sure what you mean. I said in 33 that I agree that elites work to persuade. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the public needs much cajoling. Is it really so naive to think that when the federal budget is in surplus tax cuts might be popular? What is meant by “manipulation” in that context, the precise distribution of the tax cuts across income levels? Okay… but that’s not what Krugman is talking about.

Why were some elites — those supporting tax cuts — able to steer policy in 2001, while other elites — those supporting universal health care, say — were not? It seems like there’s at least one intervening variable that’s gone missing: the public. I don’t think it’s controversial or naive to assert that if a different set of elites had been elected in 2000 (Gore instead of Bush) that the Iraq War likely would not have happened. I don’t think it’s controversial or naive to assert that if a different set of elites had been elected in 2008 (McCain instead of Obama) the PPACA would not now be law. So how is the public not relevant?

No I don’t expect you to believe that the voting public is representative of the full spectrum of opinion, although it’s probably closer than you think. I was using shorthand to make a simple point. In CPE/IPE, we often (regrettably) refer to the “selectorate” as a distinction. As for “swift-boating”, I’ll leave it to Bob Erikson (legend in American poli sci, esp on the mass politics and public opinion) at Farrell’s other blog:

“Everyone “knows” that the Swift Boat ads—or at least the resulting media coverage that they generated—hurt Kerry. But I have yet to see definitive evidence, whereby, for example, Kerry’s poll standing is regressed on various measures of media content, including the prevalence of Swift Boat. I would not be surprised to find that Swift Boat mattered. Then again, there are lots of things that “everyone knows” were important, but, it turns out, don’t appear to have mattered much at all—e.g., the Daisy ad.”

http://themonkeycage.org/2010/09/democrats_dont_campaign/

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Phil 05.11.11 at 9:57 am

He’s not advancing any sort of coherent structuralist argument

I wasn’t really saying he was. I was saying that your riposte to Krugman is manifestly inadequate, and you can understand why it was inadequate if you take questions to do with agenda-setting power into account (I don’t like the word ‘structuralist’, it makes me think of Levi-Strauss). In other words, Krugman is using an explanatory dimension that you’re denying yourself, and consequently getting better answers to more interesting questions. The question isn’t “why tax cuts?”, it’s “why those tax cuts, with these beneficiaries, at this time?” And the answer isn’t “because people always want to pay less tax”.

There is a danger of reductionism in the elite-centred approach to politics, and it is worth saying that some elite-promoted projects fly with the public and others don’t. But I come back to Pythagoras and his lever. In terms of political history, public opinion just isn’t a fixed point and never has been – the USA has never been a country where the public gets to form an opinion and express it without any kind of guidance or management, or is enabled to have its opinions drive policy.

45

John Quiggin 05.11.11 at 10:00 am

It might be useful to point to examples of policies that were largely driven by public demand rather than by elite opinion. A couple of suggestions
(1) ‘Tough on crime’ measures of all kinds are generally popular, even though elites are divided on their effectiveness
(2) Decisions to end wars are commonly driven by the fact that the public gets war-weary fairly fast while elites commonly want to “see it through”

46

Kindred Winecoff 05.11.11 at 10:03 am

hopkin41, FFS I never said elites and interest groups don’t matter! “You can make an argument that voter preferences matter more than Krugman implies” That IS my argument; Krugman implies that they don’t matter at all. “voters only get a limited choice over what they can vote for, is a pretty strong one.” Maybe, but the Democrat range from Kucinich to Biden is pretty broad, as is the GOP range from Paul to Romney. Median voter doesn’t work perfectly, but I doubt elections would be much different if you had a fatter distribution of candidates.

DxD, What are you driving at, exactly?

47

Henri Vieuxtemps 05.11.11 at 10:14 am

Yawn. Read Manufacturing Consent…

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Kindred Winecoff 05.11.11 at 10:33 am

Phil44, My riposte to Krugman was to pick on one particular point. And, actually, given that the Bush tax cuts basically just repealed the Clinton tax hikes of a few years earlier (which were in turn reactive to the Reagan cuts), I think “why tax cuts?” is a very interesting question. Public opinion might not be a fixed point over time, but neither are elites or elite influence. So sure: “why *these* tax cuts for *these* beneficiaries at *this* time?” is an interesting question, and those types of issues is what I spend most of the time blogging about. But “why do *these* elites influence policy at *this* time?” is an interesting question too, and I find it really hard to answer that question without reference to the polity. Defining elites as “those who influence policy” is a tautology, and agenda-setting power is not a static variable. Obama sets the agenda because he won the election. Had he not, he wouldn’t.

John, Fine examples (I’d add trade policy), but it doesn’t need to be either/or. And, as I’ve repeatedly said, elite opinion varies across elites. Krugman and Brooks disagree. Greenspan and Volcker disagree, etc. But the elections lit overwhelmingly suggests that if the government mismanages a high salience/high info issue — esp the economy, a scandal, or a war — then they get voted out of office, elite opinion be damned. To at least that extent policy is responsive to publics, as are which elites are in positions of influence at any given time.

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Loviatar 05.11.11 at 10:34 am

Henry/et al,

You are giving Winecoff too much credit. I’ve read his original post and his responses here and all I’ve gotten from his writing is that he is a disingenuous, dissembling mouthpiece for the anti-Krugman portion of the political elite.

He is doing exactly what a modern day trench soldier for the conservative movement does; he puts out a poorly researched political hit job and when challenged on facts, he dissembles, when taken to task with his own words, he builds strawmen. He is not naive, he didn’t read Krugman incorrectly, he is just playing by the modern conservative playbook.

Conservative Playbook – 7 easy steps
1.) support crappy policy (e.g. Paul Ryan’s budget plan)
2.) when challenged – dissemble (we’re not killing Medicaid)
3.) scream liberal media (standard)
4.) when challenged again – build strawman (budget mess was created by housing and medical aid for poor people)
5.) scream liberal media (standard)
6.) when challenged again – lie (the public wanted tax cuts for the rich and the Iraq war / the public wants us to cut medical care for the poor and elderly)
7.) scream liberal media (standard)

I’ll close by saying, of the several reasons why I enjoy reading Krugman, the number one is that he doesn’t suffer fools easily. Too bad more of our political elites don’t have the same attitude.

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guero 05.11.11 at 10:45 am

The strangest thing about this comment thread is Winecoff’s weird almost evangelical (at least Protestant) revolt against any indications that elites are running the show, the belief that the flock itself is so hopelessly fallen that it can’t help but bring ruin upon itself, and the tenacity to take all comers and drive the debate into basically the basically technical margins of the conversation that started it all. Reading to the end of this thread was a trip down memory lane through my childhood in the Bible Belt, when I had to contend with burdens of proof, Pascal’s wager, the argument from design, and some homespun analogies about dead fish being wrapped in newspaper (?!). Like a good evangelical, Winecoff will brook no preacher, insisting that we’ve all misunderstood his real point, the self-evident observation that Paul Krugman’s “Conscience of a Liberal” blog is consistently moralistic. I found the conversation insipid when I was a kid and the question was a binary one about God, and I find it equally so now that it’s a binary one about public opinion. Being a repressed Protestant, I’m now off to hate myself for having witnessed the whole sordid thing.

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Ben 05.11.11 at 10:51 am

. . . where does Krugman claim that the public had nothing to do with policy formation?

Krugman: “What I’ve been hearing with growing frequency from members of the policy elite — self-appointed wise men, officials, and pundits in good standing — is the claim that it’s mostly the public’s fault. The idea is that we got into this mess because voters wanted something for nothing, and weak-minded politicians catered to the electorate’s foolishness.” I.e., people have been claiming that a specific batch of past policies were driven solely by the electorate; elites had little agency or responsibility, they just implemented what they thought the public wanted.

“The fact is that what we’re experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. The policies that got us into this mess weren’t responses to public demand. They were, with few exceptions, policies championed by small groups of influential people.” I.e., I want to argue with that claim, and argue instead that elites did in fact have agency and bear responsibility for implementing that specific batch of past policies.

Is that second summary explicitly ruling out public opinion as a factor in the policies that were implemented? No.

Is that second summary consistent with public opinion playing a factor in the policies that were implemented? Yes. Is it consistent with public opinion providing a policy space that elites work within, and with public opinion being shaped by elites before a policy is implemented, both models Winecoff says are consistent with the position he’s defending? Yes.

Given the above, does Winecoff actually disagree with Krugman? Maaaaybe, in that had Gore or Kerry become president we probably wouldn’t have had exactly the same policies that Krugman’s mad about. But mapping election results onto policy mandates is sketchy, and Krugman’s not really arguing that voter preferences played no role in the specific policies that were implemented; he’s saying elites bear the responsibility for those specific policies and not voter preference. If I take my kid to the petting zoo, his preference of petting zoos as acceptably fun instead of unacceptably gross or scary plays a role in us going there, but I bear the responsibility for us going. (I’m not implying voters are children, btw). So it’s hard to see, exactly, where Winecoff disagrees with that second summary.

Is Winecoff nonetheless a good bloke for defending his arguments so often and so vigorously? Yes.

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Cranky Observer 05.11.11 at 11:01 am

1) In the financial realm, I would be curious to see some evidence that the US public demanded the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act. Or even knew what the Glass-Steagall Act was when it was being repealed.

2) On the other hand, during the health care debate polls consistently showed that 60% of US voters wanted a strong public option (at least; many wanted single-payer) included in the bill. That option wasn’t even discussed (except to be killed by the insurance and drug lobbyists in backroom meetings). If the “public gets what it wants”, why was there not even any discussion of a public option?

Cranky

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Phil 05.11.11 at 11:13 am

Obama sets the agenda because he won the election

How much leeway has a president got to set the agenda? Has Obama used that leeway, or pushed it to its limits? (In which areas?) Does Obama even want to? To the extent that he has used it, has he used it in ways that seem to correspond to the things he campaigned on? Do his supporters still think he’s setting the agenda in ways that they approve of? To the extent that they still support him, how much of that is attributable to Obama representing a change from Bush and a defence against Palin?

You just seem to be living in a very simplified world.

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alph 05.11.11 at 11:31 am

I’ve never heard of Scott Sumner before, but now I have to assume that he was someone who committed repetitional suicide in a very public venue by showing himself to be clueless, mendacious, and repulsively smarmy by turns.

Poor Scott. If only someone had told him to stop sooner.

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alph 05.11.11 at 11:33 am

Oy. “repetitional” s/b “reputational”.

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Yarrow 05.11.11 at 11:33 am

Keep in mind that all I’m trying to say is that policy isn’t created in a public-free vacuum, and the government is at least somewhat responsive to majority opinion, however screwy and confused it may be.

No, you’re trying to say that Krugman’s head is up his butt when he says things like “the only budget-busting measure undertaken in recent memory that was driven by popular demand as opposed to the agenda of a small number of powerful people was Medicare Part D. And even there, the plan was needlessly expensive, not because that’s the way the public wanted it — it could easily have been simply an addition to traditional Medicare — but to please the drug lobby and the anti-government ideologues.”

The phrases “driven by popular demand” and “driven by a small number of powerful people, constrained to some extent by majority opinion” mean different things. You want to prove the caveat in the second and claim it means the whole of the first.

(I would say “constrained to some extent by opinion among the people in the top decile economically”, but whatever.)

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Tim Wilkinson 05.11.11 at 11:34 am

There is very wide variation in rates of home ownership across democracies. This may reflect differences in underlying preferences (maybe in an ideal world Germans don’t want to own their houses the same way that Americans do). But it also plausibly reflects huge differences e.g. in mortgage regulation which are largely driven by interest groups rather than voters themselves.

I’d guess that regulation of tenancy contracts would have some impact here: certainly among other ways in which a tenant is at the mercy of the landlord, the miserably short tenure afforded by standard Assured Shorthold tenancies makes renting very unappealing. Those were a really nasty Thatcher innovation, which as it happens is relevant here on general grounds.

I must have only been about 10 or 12, but I clearly remember the lurid media campaign that helped it through, and I even seem to remember (perhaps over-fondly) being rather suspicious. Suddenly the news was full of tales of unevictable tenants from hell who for unaccountable reasons chose to smash up their living quarters and shit in their baths, the resulting misery of course being felt most keenly by the hapless landlord whose ‘home’ was being desecrated.

That campaign was very clearly directed at getting the support of ordinary non-landlords (and far fewer people were landlords then), even including tenants, for the reforms. And it was equally clearly dishonest, not just cherrypicking a few weird cases, exaggerating and quite possibly lying (there was a lot of that in the early 80s tabloids ), but lumping tenants in with squatters for better effect. As a result the top-down reforms went through on the basis of misinformation and talking points which were much more to do with pre-empting and crowding out the opposing arguments with as it was with actually getting the general public to genuinely come round to support the worthy cause of landlords’ rights.

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Tim Wilkinson 05.11.11 at 11:42 am

Nice to see that staple fare of the bullshitter, Occam’s Razor, being brought into play too.

59

Jonathan 05.11.11 at 11:51 am

As a British economist who risks his professional credibility by fraternising with politics academics I think this raises a wider intellectual issue of the way politics as an academic discipline relates to economic theory. Crudely it seems to be an either/or: blanket dismissal of rational economic man (often in such a way as to make me come over all down the line orthodox micro) or – especially with US political scientists – wholesale and uncritical acceptance of particular mainstream model. If political scientists want to pick up on median voter theorem, Stolper-Samuelson or whatever that’s great – but it would be nice if they could show some appreciation of the limits and problems of economic models, which economists are often well aware of, rather than trumpet their use of some economic model as if it’s the very last word on the subject.

60

Alex 05.11.11 at 11:54 am

As well as single payer and immigration reform and a bunch of other stuff, majorities of Americans express a preference for a significantly more egalitarian distribution of income when they are asked. So where’s yer New Deal 2.0?

That’s right, it’s still one of Steve Attewell’s blogs.

How could it happen?

61

David 05.11.11 at 12:17 pm

You can’t say you want to stay grounded in a systemic understanding of the housing bubble and go on to say “subprime crisis” and “Frannie.”. And the bubble in Ireland and Spain suggests your ownership society explanation is bunk.

Also, you imagine yourself to be batting 1000 with occam’s razor (that was funny piglet) but instead have yet to lay a bat on the ball. Apart from the housing bubble (your policy interventions that explain the bubble are far more elite gratifying than ublicly desired) ther is a massive move from tax cuts to more money to our campaign contributors, and prescription drugs to giveaway to drug companies. Krugman was clearly talking about the latter in both cases.

Just repeating what’s been said, of course, sorry.

62

Straightwood 05.11.11 at 12:34 pm

Mr. Winecoff seems intent on diffusing responsibility for bad policy outcomes by laying down a smokescreen of generalities regarding explicit and implicit voter “approval” of bad policy. But there are sharp distinctions of motives and methods between powerful individuals energetically pursuing an agenda and a vast aggregation of poorly informed voters tolerating faits accompli. This asymmetry does not seem to interest him, because he wants to spread blame so evenly that nobody can be blamed.

For the same reason, Winecoff ignores the technical progress in the propaganda workshop, which now includes potent tools such as focus groups and computer-aided voter targeting. Regarding his contending elites nostrum, evil people will stop at nothing to attain their objectives. Winecoff does not seem to grasp that this confers a tactical advantage in a contest between elite groups.

The notion that good and evil exist in the world seems quite alien to Winecoff. Does he believe that there is no difference between the people running a tobacco company and those in charge of Greenpeace?

63

Henry 05.11.11 at 1:04 pm

Kindred – the gap between your original claim that:

bq. If there is Medicare Part D, maybe it’s because people wanted Medicare Part D. If there is a housing bubble, maybe it’s because public policy was skewed in ways that home ownership attractive, because that’s what people want. This might not work all the time, but as a first approximation this sort of thinking holds up fairly well. In the examples Krugman gives, it’s batting 1.000.

and your later argument that:

bq. Keep in mind that all I’m trying to say is that policy isn’t created in a public-free vacuum, and the government is at least somewhat responsive to majority opinion, however screwy and confused it may be.

is an extremely wide one. The first says unambiguously that we should start from the proposition that policy happens because people want it, and that even if this “might not work all the time,” it “works fairly well” as a “first approximation.” This is a strong claim in favor of policy-as-revealed-public-preferences stories. The second is a _much_ weaker claim that we shouldn’t completely exclude the public from our explanations. And contrary to your claim that that your proposed account beats Krugman’s across all the issues in question, it very obviously doesn’t. Or, to focus the debate a bit, which element of Krugman’s description of Medicare Part D as “driven by popular demand” but “needlessly expensive, not because that’s the way the public wanted it — it could easily have been simply an addition to traditional Medicare — but to please the drug lobby and the anti-government ideologues” is factually false, given e.g. Campbell and Morgan’s account, which is the only political science account I know of? Or do you have evidence that their account is wrong? If you want to make strong accusations that Krugman is “playing fast and loose with his factual claims,” you really need to be quite sure that it is you, not Krugman, who is in command of the facts. I really would like to see you respond to this.

You seem to be also suggesting (perhaps I am mistaken here) that public support for the Iraq war was causally important to the actual decision to go to war. I don’t think that this flies. Good theories of causation rely on counterfactuals, and it is hard for me to come up with a counterfactual under which e.g. if the Bush administration had _not_ wanted to go to war, it would have believed that public opinion obliged it to do this. In other words, I don’t think that public opinion was a significant constraint here. If the Bush administration had chosen instead to continue to concentrate on Afghanistan, I cannot see any very realistic alternative world in which it would have taken a significant hit from public opinion.

I thought – and still think – that your post was indefensible – it made strong arguments that were obviously wrong in order to criticize strong arguments that were (as best as I can tell) largely right. That is not a super-big deal in itself. Sometimes we write stinky blogposts. That’s to be expected given the nature of the medium – all of us screw up at one point or another. And it’s OK – blogposts are not peer reviewed articles that we are staking our professional reputation on (or if we are, I am in trouble). But from my own (far from unblemished) experience, I’ve learned the hard way that it is usually a good idea to publicly accept the mistake, learn from it and move on.

64

Henry 05.11.11 at 1:13 pm

As an addendum, while I have no idea whatsoever of what Winecoff’s partisan persuasion is, I don’t believe for a moment that this is either a deliberately dishonest post or a partisan attack. I think it (a) reflects his specific dislike of Krugman (expressed in a number of previous posts), and (b) is badly wrong – but that is obviously a very different kind of criticism.

65

ed 05.11.11 at 1:32 pm

Um, yeah. Apologies in advance, but one cannot resist:

“Why, of course the people don’t want war. Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally, the common people don’t want war; that is understood.

But after all, it’s the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it’s always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it’s a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship.

Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to greater danger. It works the same way in any country.”

–Some Guy from Old Europe

66

Leinad 05.11.11 at 1:39 pm

Weird to find Krugman on the same page as a sleazy German aviation enthusiast but there you go.

67

Straightwood 05.11.11 at 1:47 pm

Regarding the public’s desire for war:

Drumming the U.S. to war against Spain, Hearst sent artist Frederic Remington to Cuba. When Remington cabled that all was quiet, with no war in sight, Hearst fired back: “You supply the pictures, I’ll supply the war.”

Source: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,920536-2,00.html#ixzz1M3EMRpth

Of couse, according to Winecoff, because the public subsequently supported the war, it was not engineered by the power elite.

68

chris 05.11.11 at 2:06 pm

The President and Congress of the United States were elected (and re-elected) by the public. That a direct enough causal mechanism for you?

No, in fact, the President who was responsible for the policy initiatives under discussion got *fewer* votes from the public (even leaving aside vote caging, systematic disenfranchisement, etc.); but electoral reform seems outside the scope of this thread.

In any case, elections don’t carry enough information to determine the details of policy. Even assuming that elections are an accurate referendum on the past few years of policy as a whole, that says little or nothing about to what extent the public supports any *particular part* of that policy. And in some cases, like invasions, the public isn’t allowed to speak until it is too late to influence the outcome.

I promise you that very few people actually supported – or even understood – the predatory lending

Indeed, it’s practically the definition of predatory lending that if the borrower understood the contract, he wouldn’t agree to it. (This makes blaming the borrower for the consequences somewhere between ludicrous and outrageous.)

Transactions that only take place if one party is misinformed are confidently assumed to be impossible by certain economic models, but in real economies they can play a large and important role. Not all of them fit into the legal definition of “fraud”, although some do.

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chris 05.11.11 at 2:08 pm

@66: Empirically they’re on the same page (this trick works), but normatively, I think it’s pretty clear Krugman disapproves of putting the technique into practice, while history shows that the originator did not.

70

stostosto 05.11.11 at 2:13 pm

Regarding alleged popular support for invading Iraq, I have this quote from a piece on an opinion poll in Washington Post on Dec. 17, 2002 (unavailable online):

“58 percent of those interviewed would like to see President Bush present more evidence explaining why the United States should use military force to topple the Iraqi leader, up from 50 percent in September. And while most Americans view Iraq as a major threat, fewer than half said it poses an immediate danger to this country.
That finding and others suggest that Bush may be moving faster toward war than the public would prefer. At the time Americans are becoming more certain that war will break out, the survey found they also are growing more wary of the president and his motives for pressing to move quickly with military force against Iraq.
More than half — 54 percent — feared that Bush will act too quickly to use force, while 40 percent worried that he won’t move quickly enough. And an even larger majority — 58 percent — opposed taking military action against Iraq without the support of the United Nations”

Also, check out this Wikipedia entry on the issue: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Popular_opinion_in_the_United_States_on_the_invasion_of_Iraq

“January 2003

Approximately 2 out of 3 respondents wanted the government to wait for the UN inspections to end, and only 31% supported using military force immediately. Interestingly, this same poll showed that a majority of Americans believed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, but did not expect UN inspectors to find them. These numbers indicated a dramatic drop in support, as, two months prior, most polls showed about two-thirds of those polled supporting military action. However, about 60% of those polled also supported, if necessary, the use of military action to remove Saddam from power which closely mirrored recent polls taken by Time Magazine, CNN, Fox News, USA Today, CBS News and other news organizations. Current polls also showed that most Americans did not think that Saddam was cooperating with inspectors.[7]

Polls also suggested that most Americans would still like to see more evidence against Iraq, and for UN weapons inspections to continue before making an invasion. For example, an ABC news poll reported than only 10% of Americans favored giving the inspectors less than a few weeks; 41% favored giving them a few weeks, 33% a few months, and 13% more than that.[2]

A consistent pattern in the months leading up to the U.S.-led invasion was that higher percentages of the population supported the impending war in polls that offered only two options (for or against) than in polls that broke down support into three or more options given (distinguishing unconditional support for the war, opposition to the war even if weapons inspectors do their job, and support if and only if inspection crews are allowed time to investigate first).”

71

Bloix 05.11.11 at 2:25 pm

# 22 – “Slice it any way you please, Karl Rove or whoever your bogeyman is has no influence without a populace that put his guy in power.”
#38 – “The President and Congress of the United States were elected (and re-elected) by the public. “

No, actually, Karl Rove’s guy was put in power by five members of the United States Supreme Court after the populace elected his opponent.

And anyone who can describe the Senate as an institution whose members are “elected by the public” needs a remedial high school course in American government.

The United States has a republican system of government that is notoriously anti-democratic in many ways, some intended by the Founders (the Electoral College, the two-chamber legislature with staggered terms for Senators, the Senatorial representation of states, not people) and some more or less accidental (the grotesque over-representation of the rural mountain west states in the Senate, the filibuster, the gerrymandering of House districts, the committee system that puts great power to shape the agenda in the hands of individual Congresspersons who can much more easily be pressured by lobbyists who control campaign contributions than could a national party).

As a result, virtually nothing that happens in our system reflects a consensus will of the people. Everything results from compromises among interests whose power to participate in decision-making bears only the vaguest relationship to the popular support those interests can command.

And none of the items that are attributed to the will of the people by Mr. Winecoff would have happened if the actual will of the people, as imperfectly expressed in the election of 2000, had been honored.

72

Western Dave 05.11.11 at 3:08 pm

This argument is painfully misdirected. Perhaps because a number of you aren’t around 6 year-olds and therefore don’t understand the political sophistication of six year olds. Consider the following statements by six year old:

Farts can be funny.
Slavery was wrong.
Boys can get the girl toy in the Happy Meal.
Dad, that guy over there has a limp.

All of these are true statements. Just like:

The political elites who made the crappy policies that created a recession that are severely hurting most Americans are the same ones now complaining and saying that most Americans need to abandon the New Deal programs that created most post-war success are a bunch of people who are so shameless that they must have cojones the size of grapefruit and demagnetized moral compasses.

It might not be polite, it might not be theoretically sophisticated, it may not get you a publication or points at the next professional meeting and it sure as hell isn’t moralizing. It’s saying, “look Dad, that man has a limp.”

73

Substance McGravitas 05.11.11 at 3:27 pm

The American people get together every once in a while to decree that Disney should own Mickey Mouse forever.

74

IM 05.11.11 at 3:35 pm

Winecoff is attacking a straw man. Krugman did not propose a new theory of how policy is made. He just made a point of how the concrete policies that generated the actual fiscal and economic problems in the US originated. And all the policies he mentioned were elite driven projects.
Brooks basically proposed to destroy the remaining New Deal and Great Society institutions and attacked the broader population for their attachment to these institutions. Krugman just pointed to the neoliberal elite policies that actually caused the recession.

But of course Winnecoff likes to blame Fannie Mae – another New Deal institution – and thinks deregulation is still cool and not to blame at all.

And the claim that elites can be elected – are Krugman or Brooks elected? – borders on the willful blind.

75

Sev 05.11.11 at 3:48 pm

Shorter Winnecoff: Krugman is shrill!

Shorter CT commenters: Volume sounds fine to us.

76

Henry 05.11.11 at 4:15 pm

And as a continuation, since I have now read your follow-up post, I’d like to ask you about this bit:

bq. Or, as Farrell says, “It is fair to say that the Medicare changes began in a shift in partisan patterns of competition over issues. However, it surely didn’t end there.” No argument from me. That, however, is not what Krugman argues. He claims that the public had nothing to do with it at all. That this is purely a top-down disaster.

Since Krugman does not mention Medicare at all in the column, only in the associated blogpost, I presume that it is this blogpost that you are working from. But there is _simply no way_ to read Krugman’s argument as saying that ‘the public had nothing to do with it at all.’ The man says explicitly:

bq. In fact, the only budget-busting measure undertaken in recent memory that was driven by popular demand as opposed to the agenda of a small number of powerful people was Medicare Part D. And even there, the plan was needlessly expensive, not because that’s the way the public wanted it — it could easily have been simply an addition to traditional Medicare — but to please the drug lobby and the anti-government ideologues.

It seems that you are very badly misreading Krugman as making a claim which he emphatically does not make. Furthermore, you seem to be in _complete agreement_ with the claim that he is in fact making. This poses some obvious problems for your critique, both in its original form, and as amended.

77

Straightwood 05.11.11 at 4:17 pm

Brooks is possibly the worst of the VSP pundits because of his indefatigable chutzpah abetted by junk sociology. Every few days he emits an unsubstantiated “insight” that consistently supports aggrandizement of the rich and the pauperization of everyone else. Ever since Brooks saw that the Buckleys ate off silver plates, he has been a loyal servant of the fortunate, and there is no slimy sophistry that he will not stoop to to please his patrons.

That Brooks, a shameless sophist, occupies equal column space across the page from a rigorously honest Nobel Prize winning economist is a sad commentary on the swamp of “balanced” commentary that the NYT has become under the dysfunctional Bill Keller.

78

bh 05.11.11 at 4:24 pm

Everyone else has nicely hit the substantive points, so I’ll just say that once you’ve likened someone’s reasoning to that of a six year old, you can spare us any whining about being hit too hard. Say what you will about Krugman, but he doesn’t change his story and go crying to nonexistent referees when the going gets rough.

79

Lee A. Arnold 05.11.11 at 4:36 pm

Kindred Winecoff, your argument appears to be that because politicians don’t do anything without public support, therefore the public must take part of the blame; and that if the politicians have manipulated public opinion to obtain that public support, therefore the public should have known better. Well, okay, as far as it goes. But the notion that the public (or majority public opinion) wants “something for nothing” is false. Your argument against Krugman might be better served by picking something which is TRUE of public opinion, such as the fact that a commanding majority (70% or more) is against increasing the government debt — a fact that explains the White House’s reluctant acceptance of “fiscal austerity” and explains the tenor of the current political fight in Congress over raising the debt ceiling. (We can leave for another time the question of whether the public is correct to draw the analogy between the dangers of personal and public debt.) So we can’t blame the economic elites entirely for the Austerian approach — though they appear to be very happy to comply! On the other hand it is FALSE to imply that the public wants something for nothing, and when this canard arises, as it often has throughout the long debate over government spending, it usually hides a motive. In reality, if you go through the long-form opinion polls on public attitudes you will find that the public is very reasonable and fair-minded. For example, the public believes it has PAID FOR Social Security and Medicare. Indeed they have accepted tax increases to support those programs over the last three decades. When the old Tea Party man yelled, “Keep your government hands off my Medicare!” it was because he believes that he has already contributed. Now of course the public may be wrong on the arithmetic (and that would be almost entirely because medicine exhibits a supply-side cost push which has so far defied technological developments, and is in fact pushed by them), but when they get it right, they often vote down projects that look unaffordable. (In fact there was NO poll in 2001-2003 that asked whether the Bush Tax Cuts should be passed if it meant the end of Social Security and Medicare — you know what the answer would have been! — and the full costs of Medicare Part D were suppressed until after the Congressional votes). Indeed, the public is very fair-minded across a huge spectrum of issues, not just financial ones. You could fault them for inattention, or for being unable to connect the dots (although the conflicting policies are enacted at different times and with different sorts of propaganda), but on the whole, “the policies that got us into this mess weren’t responses to public demand.” (Krugman)

80

Spock 05.11.11 at 4:48 pm

This was just fun to read. And a poli sci professor who pretends not to have a clue about how US politics and society (and polling) work certainly deserves this rough treatment.

81

Loviatar 05.11.11 at 4:58 pm

Spock,

That is what gets me, according to his blog bio; he is a 3rd year PhD candidate in Political Science at the University of North Carolina (minoring in Political Methodology and Comparative Politics). This crap should be in his wheelhouse; is it the educational system that has failed him or is he just a mendacious hack.

82

Uncle Kvetch 05.11.11 at 5:04 pm

If something bad happens, it must be because bad people are doing it.

No. He’s saying that the people entrusted with some extremely important jobs, which directly affect the lives of hundreds of millions of people, have done an extremely bad job, and that they should be held accountable. “Bad people” is your strawman.

Winecoff”s reference to the reasoning of a six-year-old is inadvertently appropriate: he’s apparently incapable of differentiating “you have done a bad thing” and “you are a bad person.”

I was protesting Krugman’s moralism

You were protesting the fact that rich and powerful people can’t even open their morning paper without the risk of having their fee-fees hurt. It’s positively scandaleux.

83

StevenAttewell 05.11.11 at 5:17 pm

Alex –

Thanks. Actually, I’ve always thought that the best piece of evidence that public opinion is significantly impinged upon by political elites is the fact that enormous majorities (60-70% of Americans) have believed that the government should provide a job to anyone who wants to work – not just in 1945, but also in the 1950s and 1980s.

And yet, the U.S has no job guarantee.

84

Jim Harrison 05.11.11 at 5:41 pm

Winecoff is perfectly correct that our system has some democratic features, which is the reason that our conservative elites have to lie so much. Back in happier times classic liberals could and did fly under their true colors and publicly celebrate the permanent subjugation of the majority of the population as the obvious precondition for the liberty of the real citizens. Things are different now, and lip service must be paid to democracy. As the recent episode with the proposed destruction of Medicare shows, the price of mendacity is relentless consistency but the expense and bother of that is better that than what can happen if you’re caught telling the truth about what you stand for.

Much shorter version: Of course Krugman is accusing elites of immorality. “Why do I call you a pig fucker? Because, first of all, you fuck pigs.”

85

Rambuncle 05.11.11 at 5:54 pm

Your argument against Krugman might be better served by picking something which is TRUE of public opinion, such as the fact that a commanding majority (70% or more) is against increasing the government debt

Can I get a citation for this. I have never heard that high a number, especially if we are talking about government debt and not deficit. Also, is this a case where the poll cites people are worried about government debt, except when you ask about other things (i.e. jobs) it is shown that while they are worried about the debt they are actually more worried about other things?

86

Straightwood 05.11.11 at 5:55 pm

Professor Krugman knows evil when he sees it:

April 22, 2009, 10:01 am
Grand unified scandal

From Jonathan Landay at McClatchy, one of the few reporters to get the story right during the march to war:

The Bush administration put relentless pressure on interrogators to use harsh methods on detainees in part to find evidence of cooperation between al Qaida and the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s regime, according to a former senior U.S. intelligence official and a former Army psychiatrist.

Such information would’ve provided a foundation for one of former President George W. Bush’s main arguments for invading Iraq in 2003. No evidence has ever been found of operational ties between Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network and Saddam’s regime.

The use of abusive interrogation — widely considered torture — as part of Bush’s quest for a rationale to invade Iraq came to light as the Senate issued a major report tracing the origin of the abuses and President Barack Obama opened the door to prosecuting former U.S. officials for approving them.

Let’s say this slowly: the Bush administration wanted to use 9/11 as a pretext to invade Iraq, even though Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. So it tortured people to make them confess to the nonexistent link.

There’s a word for this: it’s evil.

Source: http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/04/22/grand-unified-scandal/#comment-171725

87

Area Man 05.11.11 at 7:08 pm

@35:

“What, you think it was a big accident?”

Of course not. I am taking issue with your claim that the housing bubble was caused by public policy making home ownership more attractive. There are causal factors when it comes to creating and bursting bubbles, some monetary, some psychological, but public policy alone can’t make people bid up the price of something to unsustainable levels. At most, public policy would increase the baseline value; something else has to be at work to send prices out of control.

88

Barry 05.11.11 at 7:34 pm

Henry 05.11.11 at 1:13 pm

” As an addendum, while I have no idea whatsoever of what Winecoff’s partisan persuasion is, I don’t believe for a moment that this is either a deliberately dishonest post or a partisan attack. I think it (a) reflects his specific dislike of Krugman (expressed in a number of previous posts), and (b) is badly wrong – but that is obviously a very different kind of criticism.”

Well, for this to be an honest and nonpartisan post, written by a poli sci Ph.D. student who lived through this era as a teenager/adult, he had to have dropped *lots* of acid.

89

JM 05.11.11 at 7:41 pm

IIRC, there was no majority supporting the invasion of Iraq until the shooting started. Politicians understand this ‘in harm’s way’ effect, which is why they conflate support for the war with support for the troops.

90

mpowell 05.11.11 at 8:21 pm

There are a lot of good points here regarding how elites drive policy, but I almost feel like it’s all unnecessary in this debate. Sure, Bush became president in 2000 (ignore for a moment whether that was a democratic outcome or not) and that political event very likely enabled the tax cuts and invasion of Iraq.

But what is the lesson we are supposed to take from this? The public was wrong to let a Republican into the White House? I’ll gladly agree with that, but if some elites are claiming that the public is generally responsible for the recession, I doubt that very many of those folk are trying to advance the claim that we should never elect a Republican president again.

Let’s look at the subtext here. What those elites are complaining about is that those pesky voters will heavily punish politicians who cut SS or Medicare benefits. Winecoff’s critique of Krugman isn’t just wrong, it’s also hitting in the wrong direction. Eliminating SS and Medicare sure would solve a lot of our budget woes, but not going into Iraq and not passing the Bush tax cuts, those would have helped quite a bit as well. And those DC elites can hardly claim that they actually opposed those policy decisions at the time. And this is exactly where Krugman takes his argument – pointing out that anyone who championed either the Iraq war or the Bush tax cuts should not be running around complaining about today’s deficit.

Financial deregulation I haven’t even brought up yet because even if you believe that public supported lax lending practices, you would have to be a fool to think there was any public interest one way or another in the ways in which those loans were bundled, sold and insured by over-leveraged institutions.

The only way Winecoff’s criticism makes sense is if you think the main point of Krugman’s article is to make a strong argument that the public had nothing to do with policies like the Bush tax cuts. And Winecoff may even be wrong about that. But to read the whole of Krugman’s article and to think that Winecoff’s is a reasonable critique to offer is to miss the point. You have missed the context in which Krugman makes those claims which assist us in interpreting exactly what he means by them and also how he is using them to advance a more general claim.

If Krugman appears partisan it may be because well over half of DC is advocating for completely insane policy. And this includes basically every Republican. If you haven’t figured this out by now, I don’t know what to tell you. It will certainly hamper your ability to helpfully contribute to this conversation.

91

JM 05.11.11 at 8:22 pm

I see stostosto has already found the data. As usual, dishonest people will find a way to slice it.

Speaking of which, I’ve read the author’s fetal attempts at defense on this thread, as well as Drezner’s piece, and I find it impossible to believe that they don’t know what ‘bait and switch’ means, since they are engaging in it. Are we really to believe that Drezner can’t see the word “you” on his first little chart? Really?

So that’s two idiots who won’t be wasting any more of my time, which is nice.

92

Kindred Winecoff 05.11.11 at 8:25 pm

Sorry for disappearing. I needed a few hours of sleep and then had a meeting. Here’s generally how I’d respond to the last 50 or comments.

To (maybe? hopefully?) clear things up, here’s how I’d see the main difference. I see a world in which voters have a vague understanding of what they want–a response to a recession, expanded health care, credit access, retribution for a terrorist attack/protection from future attacks–but do not have strong (or fully-informed) preferences over how specifically those things should be provided especially in more technical areas of policy. So they outsource to elites, who then craft policies within that space along lines that also benefit them and their friends. Some elites oppose this, but are over-ruled by the elites that have been given power by the public. The public is more-or-less okay with this, until a crisis/recession/scandal comes. I think this view is broadly corroborated by the elections and bureaucratic politics empirical literatures, as well as all kinds of social science theory (logic of collective action, principal-agent theory, minimum winning coalitions, etc.).

I read Krugman as denying the first step; the public doesn’t want these things at all, and the elites just do whatever they want. Bad outcomes come only from bad elites, and the public was merely victimized. And I think that’s wrong. The public broadly supported the policies–tax cuts, prescription drug coverage, unfunded wars–that led to the deficits. The public didn’t complain about deficits until Obama was inaugurated. That’s where I say “fast and loose with the facts”: I pointed to polls and surveys indicating that there was a public preference for the policies Krugman said they had nothing to do with. Did the public support the specifics in all cases? No. More than likely they didn’t even know what the specifics were. But that doesn’t change the fact that these policies were responsive to the public’s wishes in broad terms at least. This isn’t revealed preference; it’s stated preference.

Regarding Medicare Part D (and PPACA for that matter), I’d sketch the policy space as roughly this: the American public wants expanded health coverage, but does not want the government to run the health care system. American business obviously wants their slice of cake. This provides the following incentives for politicians: expand coverage through the private sector, which almost by definition involves the sort of corporate handouts that Krugman hated in Part D, and in PPACA. (And I did too, FWIW. Btw, the “anti-government ideologues” in Krugman’s post may refer to a huge swathe of the American public. It’s not entirely clear, but if so then on this point at least, he and I agree.) If the public wanted something different, say a single-payer system that privileged cost control over privatization, then it’s highly likely that we’d have a different system in place. That’s the system that Obama would prefer, and yet he found himself having to compromise at every step of the way in order to get anything through at all and ended up with Romneycare.

Regarding Iraq, the above points made by various commenters are all fine and good, but many of the same elites that wanted to invade Iraq also wanted to invade Iran or generally pursue more hawkish foreign policies. The public was in favor of invading Iraq in 2003 (and they definitely *did* clamor for an invasion of Afghanistan), but was never in favor of invading Iran. If elites control policy unrestrained by the public except in the most oblique way, then how can we explain these divergent results?

Regarding taxes, the elites wanted tax cuts. So did the middle class. The tax plan we got did both, skewed toward the rich, but the public still supported it. They still support the middle class cuts, and almost a majority still supports the tax cuts for the top 2%. Many elites (including the president) opposed extending the cuts for the top 2%; others favored extending them. Simply saying “elites did it” doesn’t help us here, since elites had conflicting preferences. Meanwhile, the public just elected a “populist” Tea Party that campaigned on a platform of no tax increases, spending cuts on social services, repeal of PPACA, repeal of Dodd-Frank, etc. Are you telling me that policy outcomes in 2011 will have nothing to do with that election? That elites will just do as they will?

Regarding housing, it has been near-consensus among elites (in the Reagan, Clinton, and Bush administrations) for quite some time that mortgage interest deductions and other preferential policies incentivizing housing investment (including Frannie) distort the economy. And yet successive administrations have failed to change those policies, because Congressional representatives don’t want to take the political hit.

Regarding financial regulation, the public does not have much technical knowledge, but seems to support two basic things: access to cheap credit, and no crises. Before crises, they demand credit access, esp for housing and higher education. Following crises, they demand re-regulation, which often entails restricting credit access in some form or other. The public has difficulty understanding the details of highly-technical legislation like FinReg, so they rely on partisan cues and other heuristics. Within that space politicians have room to craft policy that benefits highly-connected interest groups (ie finance) but if they screw up they get nailed in the next election as we learned in the US, UK, Ireland, Greece, Iceland, etc. after 2008. But the general trend — deregulate during calm, reregulate following crisis — isn’t a mystery of the universe, and is well supported by academic literature.

I think we’d all agree that elite preferences of the sort we’re describing (tax cuts for rich, corporate-friendly regulatory policies) and the composition of elites that hold them change very little over time. And yet policy changes quite regularly (which is what Krugman is complaining about). You can’t explain change with a static variable. So if this is a story about elites, then doesn’t it need some explanation of how elite preferences got filtered into policy in 2001 in a different way than 1998?

Krugman often complains about how the public simultaneously wants to balance the budget, but doesn’t want to raise taxes (except on the top 2%, and only barely) or cut spending except on foreign aid. Now we find ourselves with a huge budget deficit. Are you all really saying that the public has nothing at all to do with that?

Henry, that “wide gap” exists, sure, but my claim is modest: if you put “the public” into a regression where the outcome variable is “policy”, then I don’t think that coefficient is equal to zero. Krugman thinks it is. What I should have written is “If there is Medicare Part D, maybe it’s because the public wanted prescription drug coverage”. That wouldn’t’ve implied that the public wanted *exactly* what was in Medicare Part D, rather than some general policy, and likely would have saved me some trouble. Or maybe not. I’m still not quite sure why folks think the public doesn’t influence the policy space.

“You seem to be also suggesting (perhaps I am mistaken here) that public support for the Iraq war was causally important to the actual decision to go to war. I don’t think that this flies. Good theories of causation rely on counterfactuals, and it is hard for me to come up with a counterfactual under which e.g. if the Bush administration had not wanted to go to war, it would have believed that public opinion obliged it to do this.”

Yes, but the Bush administration wanted to do a lot of things: remake the entire Middle East, privatize Social Security, pass the Doha round, drill in ANWAR, reform or replace (or undermine) institutions like the UN, etc. None of those happened. They were also politically unpopular. The things that did happen, the things Krugman is complaining about, were politically popular on at least a superficial level. So the appropriate counterfactual is “what if the public didn’t approve?”, not “what if Bush had different preferences?”.

As for mistakes, I’ve admitted already that my first post was lazy. But here’s what Krugman wrote: “The policies that got us into this mess weren’t responses to public demand.” Medicare Part D was definitely a response to public demand, for prescription drug coverage for seniors. PPACA was definitely a response to public demand, for expanded health care access across the electorate. Post-9/11 foreign policy (and “homeland security”) was definitely a response to public demand, for increased security. (Prior to 9/11, Bush had no intention of invading Iraq, much less Afghanistan, because there was no public support for it.) The particular ways that that demand was filtered into policy benefited some interest groups over others, and there’s definitely an elite story to be told there, but it’s disingenuous to say that the public was just sitting on the sidelines doing nothing.

Off to eat oysters. I’ll pop back in later to see how you all are raking me over the coals on this one.

93

Kindred Winecoff 05.11.11 at 8:32 pm

JM89, That’s just wrong. From 2001 on a majority was in favor. Bigger majorities wanted UN approval, but in March 2003 54% of the public (USA Today/CNN/Gallup) supported the war even if the UNSC rejected it. Right after the war started, 62% of the public approved (ABC/WaPo).

94

Barry 05.11.11 at 8:35 pm

And Kindred, as has been pointed out, that’s after an elite-run and driven PR campaign which involved the conspicuous cooperation of the elite MSM.

Do you understand that? Do you recall what the press and TV were doing during that era?

95

Substance McGravitas 05.11.11 at 8:35 pm

The public didn’t complain about deficits until Obama was inaugurated.

I’ll be damned. Why didn’t they?

96

Henry 05.11.11 at 8:52 pm

bq. As for mistakes, I’ve admitted already that my first post was lazy. But here’s what Krugman wrote: “The policies that got us into this mess weren’t responses to public demand.” Medicare Part D was definitely a response to public demand, for prescription drug coverage for seniors.

Kindred – I repeat myself. What Paul Krugman said was:

bq. In fact, the only budget-busting measure undertaken in recent memory that was driven by popular demand as opposed to the agenda of a small number of powerful people was Medicare Part D. And even there, the plan was needlessly expensive, not because that’s the way the public wanted it — it could easily have been simply an addition to traditional Medicare — but to please the drug lobby and the anti-government ideologues.

NB the following words in that quote. Budget. Busting. Measure. Driven. By. Popular. Demand. Medicare. Part. D.

If Krugman is saying, as plainly as plainly can be, that Medicare Part D _was driven by public demand_, then why do you keep on reiterating that he is saying quite the opposite of what he does in fact say? Let me repeat that again. He says – as unequivocally, plainly and simply as someone could possibly say it – that the initial impetus for Medicare Part D was driven by popular demand. This presents broad problems for your general claim that Krugman has a one dimensional account of politics in which the public plays no role whatsoever. But, more pertinently, it presents specific problems for your apparently unshaken interpretation of him as arguing that Medicare Part D was ‘not a response to public demand.’ I really don’t know how he could have been clearer about this, or what the basis of your continued misinterpretation is.

97

JM 05.11.11 at 8:54 pm

Do you understand that? Do you recall what the press and TV were doing during that era?

It looks like the right has found something new to play dumb about. Aren’t they cute?

Invading an al Qaeda ally to remove weapons of mass destruction in order to avoid a nuclear 9/11 was something people supported, but it’s not what they got. In fact, it was never on offer. Iraq was never an al Qaeda ally and the weapons programs didn’t exist, beyond a crayon drawing and a single centrifuge hidden under a rose bush. Even more important, the people pushing the policy knew that, but kept telling the same lie.

The new lie, apparently, is that invading Iraq was about invading Iraq, full stop, and that people were fine with the idea. The WMD claims have been airbrushed out of that photo with Stalin, courtesy of Drezner and the fetus.

On taxes, people supported cutting their own taxes, and were told repeatedly that the tax cut package was not top heavy. Nope, not at all.

Bait. Switch. And now there’s a third step: pretend that ‘switch’ was what they wanted all along. No, really.

On healthcare reform, millions of Americans opposed death panels and Communism. If you’re going to tell me that this meant they really didn’t like ACA (which is the argument that Drezner and the fetus are making) I’m going to have to conclude that you’re either stupid or lying.

Someone please explain this to the fetus.

98

Straightwood 05.11.11 at 8:54 pm

Shorter Winecoff: unless there is an armed rebellion, the public consents to any decisions made by elites that are enacted into law. Thus political leaders cannot be blamed for failed policies, which merely reflect the wishes of the people.

Watch out, David Brooks, another great sophist has arisen to defend the powerful against the weak!

99

JM 05.11.11 at 8:56 pm

If Krugman is saying, as plainly as plainly can be, that Medicare Part D was driven by public demand, then why do you keep on reiterating that he is saying quite the opposite of what he does in fact say?

Because he’s growling for a disemvoweling?

100

Loviatar 05.11.11 at 9:18 pm

Henry,

Why continue to engage with this person?

He is who we think he is, either a lying hack or a deeply confused person who after over 8 years of advanced study has no clue of his chosen field of study (Political Science). In either case continuing to engage will not convince him of his ineptitude, it will just frustrate you.

My suggestion, just point and mock his future blog utterances and then ignore his feeble attempts at response.

101

Lee A. Arnold 05.11.11 at 9:28 pm

Kindred Winecoff, as I asked at #79 and at #3, please link to any poll where the public favors a tax cut if it means the end of Social Security and Medicare. To the contrary, the public has ACCEPTED TAX INCREASES several times in the last 30 years, to support both programs.

You might also provide any proof that the public would have accepted Medicare Part D, if they thought it wasn’t being paid for. The full cost was suppressed until after the Congressional votes.

The main reason that the U.S. didn’t invade Iran is because it is militarily impossible to do so. Once the U.S. leaders decide upon war, public opinion is a small management problem.

102

Robert 05.11.11 at 9:28 pm

For several decades, I’ve noticed that the elites that the 10 or 20 companies owing the U.S. media put on regularly spout lies and bullshit. Has it become so bad that they now believe their nonsense and are now, like Winecoff, at best, extremely stupid? Does Pete Peterson really believe that Social Security is difficult to fund? Does Paul Krugman really believe that it is meaningful to ask if some worker’s wage exceeds the value of their marginal product?

I’m not sure if I’d like to think that for a society to continue, its ruling class must have some idea of how things work.

103

LFC 05.11.11 at 9:33 pm

Straightwood @98 — your “shorter Winecoff” is not a fair representation of his position (which I might and in some respects do disagree with, but at least I would try to characterize it accurately). In general I find your comments manichean: you are good; your opponents are evil; end of story. (Yes, there is evil in the world, yes some Bush policies were evil, but on the whole you use “evil” a little too much, imo.)

On a broader issue: has anyone pointed out here (if so, I apologize for repetition) that much of the American public likely believes deeply contradictory things, or at least things that are in tension. Majorities in polls say they want a job guarantee and a more equal distribution of income. But ask a poll question like “do you believe anyone who works hard can get ahead?” and, at least until recent years, I bet you would have found majorities saying yes to that also. People also believe in magical luck: the state lotteries depend on that.

The U.S. has — as does every other society, of course — a distinctive history and a distinctive reigning set of myths (“myths” in the sense not of outright falsehoods but of commonly accepted ideological presuppositions), and to suggest that the failure to establish a Swedish-style social democracy in the US (an outcome I would favor BTW) is solely a product of manipulation of opinion by evil elites and has nothing to do with, e.g., the way the notion of individualism got into the dominant American mythology via the frontier (just to take one example) is, to put it mildly, simplistic. Read Wister’s The Virginian; listen to the radio show Gunsmoke from the 1950s; and then go tell me that the whole reason the “policy space” is so constrained is the evil elites. No. It’s just a tad more complicated than that. And you can’t run a regression on it.

104

LFC 05.11.11 at 9:36 pm

Loviatar @100
This comment is pointless abuse. If you think he has no clue about his chosen field, write a letter of complaint to the Dept of Pol Sci at Univ of North Carolina. But spare us further utterances of this kind.

105

rea 05.11.11 at 9:38 pm

You know, we have whole industries, not to mention academic disciplines, dedicated to the proposition that it is possible to shape public opinion. Did the present public hyperconcern about the national debt somehow arise spontaneously in early 2009, after being invisible in the years 2001-2008? Or was it the product of a well-funded campaign sponsored by a faction of the elite?

Anyone who has been paying a lick of attention knows the latter is true.

106

rea 05.11.11 at 9:44 pm

Oh, and LFC @ 104–yes, let us by all means be civil to someone who goes around accusing people of “infamy” without the slightest basis.. Strong language is okay for the right, but forbidden the left. Sure.

107

chris 05.11.11 at 9:45 pm

So they outsource to elites, who then craft policies within that space along lines that also benefit them and their friends.

Here’s your problem. Elites don’t craft policies to address the public’s concerns. They craft policies and *claim* they address the public’s concerns. There’s no necessary relation between the policies and the public’s actual concerns. This works fine as long as the public doesn’t figure out that they’ve been conned. Thus the importance of owning the media.

For example, when the public wanted to be protected from terrorist attacks, Bush made some stuff up and invaded Iraq. Was that a response to the public’s agenda? Heck no. But it was passed off as one, and for long enough to get Bush reelected.

If the President says “We should invade Iraq to make us safe from terrorists”, and the people respond “We do want to be safe from terrorists… OK”, does it really make sense to say that it was the people’s decision to invade Iraq? Surely, that analysis is missing an important step. Nobody can make good decisions while they’re being lied to, including the collective decisionmaking of a democracy.

The fact that the people’s consent was procured by fraud is very relevant to assignments of blame.

108

chris 05.11.11 at 9:48 pm

But ask a poll question like “do you believe anyone who works hard can get ahead?” and, at least until recent years, I bet you would have found majorities saying yes to that also.

I think that has a lot to do with the ambiguity of “can”. If you asked “do you believe anyone who works hard definitely will get ahead?”, I bet most would answer no, because they know plenty of hardworking people who have not gotten ahead. But they could have, if they had gotten the right breaks.

But maybe I just put too much faith in the reasoning ability of poll respondents.

109

LFC 05.11.11 at 9:50 pm

yes, let us by all means be civil to someone who goes around accusing people of “infamy” without the slightest basis.

I must have missed that particular passage.

Strong language is okay for the right, but forbidden the left. Sure.

I never said that.

110

JM 05.11.11 at 9:53 pm

LFC@104:

This comment is pointless abuse.

“Pointless abuse”? Really? Since the person you’re defending has told that I am a six-year old, all I have to say is that you’re a big poopy-head.

111

Henry 05.11.11 at 9:54 pm

I’ll ask Loviatar, rea etc to pipe down please as per LFC’s suggestion.

112

JM 05.11.11 at 9:54 pm

*has told me

113

Loviatar 05.11.11 at 10:09 pm

LFC,

dn’t wnt t sd trck th pst, bt hw s my cmmnt t #100 “pntlss bs”?

s bn pntd t hr mltpl tms by lmst ll cmmntrs, Wncff pstng s msldng dsngns pc f crp. ftr svrl rspnss by Wncff dblng dwn n hs pc f crp, my qstn fr Hnry s d w tk hm s fc vl s lyng hck r d w blv ftr 8+ yrs f stdy n Pltcl Scnc tht h hs n cl f hw hs fld f stdy wrks. f th frmr mck nd gnr s wrrntd, f th lttr mck nd gnr s wrrntd.

gss n tdy’s wrld nt sffrng fls qtly s frm f pntlss bs.

.
P.S.

wll tk yr dvc thgh nd pnt hs blg pst nd hs rspnss hr t t hs prfssrs t NC wth th fllwng qstn.

s W. Kndrd Wncff rprsnttv f th dctn, mthdlgy nd tchngs f yr Pltcl Scnc dprtmnt?

114

Sev 05.11.11 at 10:09 pm

“if you put “the public” into a regression where the outcome variable is “policy”, then I don’t think that coefficient is equal to zero. Krugman thinks it is.”

This is silly. He doesn’t, and other than needing some such claim in order to support your argument, I can’t see where you get that from. But if the ‘public’ responsibility is 30%, and the elite’s 70%, he finds fault with them- and it really often is the
very people who advocated such policies- for lecturing the majority on their foolishness and irresponsibility(particularly, of course, when this is a ruse to further mislead them).
I’ve noticed that many people who criticize Krugman also misread him. His statements tend to be strong but careful. For reasons best known to themselves, some readers prefer not to notice that second part. But it is among the things I find most admirable about his writing.

115

Loviatar 05.11.11 at 10:12 pm

Hnry,

Why,

Why pp dwn?

s Wncff lyng hck r cllss prsn wth vr 8 yrs f dvncd stdy wh cnnt sm t wrp hs hd rnd smpl fcts.

Why shld pntng ths t b sn s bs.

116

Henry 05.11.11 at 10:19 pm

Loviatar – consider yourself on warning. I do not like people threatening in our comments section to take actions that could hurt someone’s livelihood except when there is repeated evidence of flagrant misbehavior over a period of time. For obvious reasons, this kind of behavior is inimical to good debate.

117

stubydoo 05.11.11 at 10:22 pm

After reading through this argument, I think there is a reasonable middle ground that both sides can agree on – i.e. that the elites AND the people are both guilty.

118

Straightwood 05.11.11 at 10:37 pm

Regarding the presence of evil in political leadership, there is a simple test. Knowingly making false representations to achieve goals that are harmful to the general electorate, but beneficial to one’s patrons, is evil. People who regularly do this to advance their political careers are evil.

The Republican party may have some genuinely deluded members, but applying the above test to the deliberate degradation of living standards of the majority of the population to increase the concentration of wealth of a tiny elite, while falsely claiming to serve the general public is, objectively, evil.

Many Republicans (and Tea Party partisans) are bluntly claiming that further concentration of wealth in America is good for the nation, despite abundant evidence that this is false. If they do not know that this is a false proposition, then they are simply stupid. If they do know it, they are evil. To the degree that Democratic politicians exhibit the same behavior, the same conclusions must be drawn.

119

Loviatar 05.11.11 at 10:39 pm

Henry,

You are correct, I won’t pull a Breitbart on Winecoff as this seems to be only the first time he has published a misleading disingenuous piece of crap.

My question still stands though, is he a lying hack or a clueless person with over 8 years of advanced study who cannot seem to wrap his head around simple facts.

Also, why is asking this question considered abuse?

120

Substance McGravitas 05.11.11 at 10:42 pm

the elites AND the people are both guilty.

Thus far there seem to be plenty of punishments for the people.

121

Andrew 05.11.11 at 11:13 pm

Just a few quick points:

As Henry points out, Krugman (sort of) says that Medicare Part D was driven by popular demand. In fairness, I don’t think Winecoff was responding to Krugman’s blog post. Medicare was introduced in Henry’s post, and Winecoff in his follow-up quoted Henry’s post, and then words from Krugman’s column, in response.

This is the clearest statement of Krugman’s general view: They were, with few exceptions, policies championed by small groups of influential people — in many cases, the same people now lecturing the rest of us on the need to get serious. Krugman later concludes, [s]o it was the bad judgment of the elite, not the greediness of the common man, that caused America’s deficit.

Krugman lays the blame for US deficit problems on “three main things:” tax cuts, wars, and the recession. All three, he claims, were caused by policy elites. Insofar as the US deficit is concerned, Krugman’s “few exceptions” simply are not to be found. The story in Krugman’s column is one wholly of elite-driven disaster.

The imbalanced aspect of Krugman’s view – taking his column and blog post together – is that all the bad policies that were caused by the elites. Even Medicare Part D, Krugman implies, is only such a budget-busting creature because of a desire to please the drug lobby and the anti-government ideologues.

So Winecoff is right when he says above that Krugman is wrong to argue that [b]ad outcomes come only from bad elites, and the public was merely victimized.

But Winecoff is wrong when he extends to if you put “the public” into a regression where the outcome variable is “policy”, then I don’t think that coefficient is equal to zero. Krugman thinks it is. Krugman’s position seems to be rather that the coefficient is equal to zero only where the outcome variable is “budget-busting policy.”

122

Straightwood 05.11.11 at 11:31 pm

At the heart of the current practice of exculpation of incompetent and/or malevolent leaders, is the general phenomenon that C. Wright Mills called “organized irresponsibility.” The American genius for systematic engineering of human activity has extended well beyond the assembly line and the microchip factory. We now have specialists in dissembling, obscuring, spinning, and misleading, and these “professionals” are critical participants in the campaigns conducted by political elites.

Although they may call themselves attorneys, PR professionals, public intellectuals, consultants, or journalists, these professional twisters of public opinion are technicians of irrationality who use every available modern means to refine their craft, the persuasion of citizens to act against their own interests.

What many academic observers, like Winecoff, are missing is that the state of the art of organized irresponsibility has advanced tremendously in the last few decades, while the capacities of the general citizenry for resisting disinformation have stagnated. This “instrumentality effect” largely accounts for the shifting balance of power between malefactors and reformers in American politics. Good people will not lie and cheat to secure their political goals, but the wicked will use every tool available. Because of the increasing power of media misinformation tools, engineered lies now dominate American political discourse, and both the chief liars and their enablers deserve a full measure of blame for the resultant damage.

123

hopkin 05.11.11 at 11:31 pm

Winecoff says:

‘Maybe, but the Democrat range from Kucinich to Biden is pretty broad, as is the GOP range from Paul to Romney. Median voter doesn’t work perfectly, but I doubt elections would be much different if you had a fatter distribution of candidates.’

There is a pretty big literature on electoral systems that implies that complete opposite of that. As does common sense if you ask me. How can you possibly believe there is a broad range of opinion amongst US elected politicians? Broad in comparison with what? The Bulgarian Communist Party in the 1970s?

124

Barry 05.11.11 at 11:42 pm

As much fun as it is watching Kindred get shown to be – well, the guy that he is, I feel that it’s time to put the boot to Daniel Drezner a bit more – well, a lot more:

1) On the count of using one poll to say something conclusive about US opinion – Guilty.
1a) On the aggravating factor of being a social scientist while doing so – Guilty.
2) On the charge of ignoring the massive pro-war PR campaign when discussing US public opinion on the Iraq War – Guilty.
3) On the charge of having participated in that massive pro-war PR campaign while blaming the American people afterwards – Guilty, Guilty, Guilty!.

At this point, it’s clear that Drezner has figured out that the best career option is to stay firmly on the dark side, and blame his victims for being foolish enough to believe him. Too bad Chicago didn’t keep him, because he’s certainly their type of guy.

125

Consumatopia 05.11.11 at 11:49 pm

Krugman’s case looks best if you looking at new policies in the past decade. I think it looks worst if you look old, bad policies that remain on the books (or good policies that remain off the books) because either the general public or some special interest would scream bloody murder. I don’t mean stuff like Medicare or Social Security that represent good yet expensive policies, I mean stuff like farm subsidies, mortgage deductions, low gas taxes, or the drug war.

The public’s weakness isn’t greed, it’s aversion to change.

126

Barry 05.11.11 at 11:57 pm

“What many academic observers, like Winecoff, are missing is that the state of the art of organized irresponsibility has advanced tremendously in the last few decades, …”

He isn’t an observer, he’s clearly moved to participant in this system (apprentice for now).

127

Kindred Winecoff 05.11.11 at 11:57 pm

@ Henry:

Didn’t mean to dodge your question. In the op-ed I referred to Krugman wrote: “The policies that got us into [the budget] mess weren’t responses to public demand.” He also wrote (in a different place that I wasn’t originally referring too but probably should have), that Part D was responsive to public demand. So either Part D isn’t one of “the policies that got us into” deficit, or his argument is specious. Krugman has repeatedly written that Part D is one of the policies that got us into deficit, and has consistently opposed it on those grounds. Here’s how Krugman characterized the politics of Part D back in late 2009:

“According to the Medicare trustees, Part D created a $9.4 trillion unfunded liability over the next 75 years. That’s a big number, even for an economy as big as ours.

What were [Republicans] thinking? Mostly, they probably weren’t thinking at all. To the extent that there was a theory of the case, however, it went something like this: pass whatever legislation was needed to win the next election, then, once total conservative political dominance has been achieved, dismantle the whole welfare state.”

http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/12/29/part-d-revisited/

That’s not terribly far from my view, but 2009 Krugman completely undercuts 2011 Krugman. Unless, of course, Part D for some reason doesn’t count as one of the deficit policies that led us to this point despite the $10tn price tag, which is much higher than the Iraq war or the Bush tax cuts. Combined. In which case, I wonder what grounding his argument has when he eliminates the single biggest budget-busting policy from his characterization of the political dynamic.

I don’t particularly care which interpretation you take; either one suggests that Krugman is playing fast and loose. As for the other things he lists in the op-ed — tax cuts, Iraq war, eurozone, financial crisis — it isn’t hard to make a case that the public supported those policies in some form or fashion (except for the financial crisis which is an event, not a policy). The eurozone in particular, since that required a series of referenda.

Anyway, Henry, I’ve raised a number of other issues that you haven’t addressed. That on purpose, or did you just want to settle this point first?

@Lee101: That’s not the question being asked. The question being asked is whether the public approved of lower taxes in 2001, during a period of recession and budget surplus. They did, even though they *knew* the benefits would mostly accrue to the top.

http://pewresearch.org/databank/dailynumber/?NumberID=1148

@LFC103: No, no one did, b/c they’re too busy arguing that the public has nothing whatsoever to do with policy outcomes.

@chris107: “If the President says “We should invade Iraq to make us safe from terrorists”, and the people respond “We do want to be safe from terrorists… OK”, does it really make sense to say that it was the people’s decision to invade Iraq?” YES! It absolutely does, if the people think that invading Iraq will punish prior terrorists or protect against future ones. The people may have been wrong, ignorant, or deceived, but you just can’t say that they didn’t approve, or that approval wasn’t necessary for the policy to be put in place. Put it another way: if the approval of the public wasn’t necessary, why would Bush have spent so much time and energy trying to win them over?

Maybe the Iraq War was fraud. But that’s by far the smallest piece of the budget mess. Tax cuts, Medicare Part D, eurozone were not fraud. Polls indicate that people knew very well what was going on with those. They supported them anyway.

@Sev114: Not silly at all. In my first post, I specifically said blame wasn’t equally distributed. I’d be fine with a 30%/70% breakdown.

@Stubydoo117: That has been my only argument, and Drezner’s, all along.

Elsewhere: I don’t care if folks dog on me or my dept/university. Doesn’t bother me, and I don’t consider it abuse. No need to chide them or get them to shut up. If they have substantive criticisms I’ll try to address them, but I can’t answer a question like “is he a lying hack or a clueless person with over 8 years of advanced study who cannot seem to wrap his head around simple facts” because I dispute that reading of the facts. Maybe that makes me self-evidently stupid. Folks are free to conclude that if they like, but then I wonder why they keep arguing with an idiot.

A few random things: I’ve never taken acid; I don’t usually vote but when I do I vote Democrat (I never voted for Bush, campaigned for Nader in 2000, voted for Obama in 2008); I think all of the policies we’re discussing were very bad public policy and I am not defending any of them; I agree that elites (and interest groups) from all ideological dispositions try very hard to persuade voters to take their view, and are sometimes successful; I agree that elites should be punished when their policies mess up the economy, and I was very glad that they were in 2006 and 2008; I agree that people shouldn’t pay any attention to David Brooks, as I stopped doing years ago.

But none of that changes the fact that the public influences policy in very important ways.

Phil Arena wrote a more careful, more lucid version of something close to my argument:

http://fparena.blogspot.com/2011/05/politics-of-blame.html?showComment=1305146391857#c2056137680340927239

Oysters were decent. Pretty good for mid-NC, in fact.

128

ScentOfViolets 05.12.11 at 12:06 am

Maybe the Iraq War was fraud. But that’s by far the smallest piece of the budget mess. Tax cuts, Medicare Part D, eurozone were not fraud. Polls indicate that people knew very well what was going on with those. They supported them anyway.

Do they not do that burden of proof thing at your university? As others have pointed out, what you’ve cited merely does not contradict you outright.

So why don’t you answer the multiple objections to your thesis? Especially since the burden of proof is on you[1] to prove it, and not on anyone else to disprove it – and most certainly not to disprove it to your satisfaction.

[1] I see a few people have brought up burden-of-proof requirements. Now you see why I harp on them so much.

129

christian_h 05.12.11 at 12:06 am

There is a valid criticism of Krugman to be made in particular as regards the financial crash – while it was of course made possible by deregulation, that deregulation was a necessary component of the financialisation of modern capitalism that in turn is a response to the problems of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall and the surplus absorption problem. seen this way, it IS indeed simplistic to blame the actions of elites, as in, individual members of the elite, for it.

But Winecoff is even more wrong. And the reason is that the whole reduction of social processes like politics to an aggregate of individual interests, maybe weighted with power or what have you, is utter nonsense.

130

Salient 05.12.11 at 12:06 am

I must have missed that particular passage.

To LFC: uh, Ctrl + F is your friend, “infamy” is in the passage Henry quoted in the OP. Admittedly, the usage seems rather mild, somewhat like calling someone “history’s greatest monster” while linking to that Simpsons quote. I think there were other things Winecoff said that were more hurtful.

To Winecoff: look, Henry is being admirably, commendably, almost outrageously generous and charitable to you, and your long responses seem… wanting. Evasive. Oddly technical at times, oddly antitechnical at other times. The kind of thing people hammer out on their keyboard in a bluster and then refine like they’re defending their reputation from a lawyer. Look. You were being flamboyant and cute on the Internet. Someone[s] called you on it. Lots of people pointed out you were astonishingly full of it; their attention is a way of showing you some respect (RedState bloggers type the kind of thing you wrote all the time; we ignore it). The easy and most respectable out is to bow your head for a moment, admit you were being flamboyant and cute, offer a light hint of apology and rhetorically retract the post, and then proceed to hash out whatever details you want to hash out. Small slice of crow humble-pie, big dividends!

I’m gritted-teethedly determined to pass off your initial post as a one-off, since I’ve said some astonishingly daft and insolent things online too, usually in an attempt to be cutely clever. But the comments you’re hamming out here and the updates on your own blog and the whirlwind you’re dusting up just seem… like so much “enough dust in the air and maybe people will ignore the fact that I called Krugman a six-year-old and then said something rather absurd — in fact, rather the sort of thing college freshmen would be ashamed to b.s. in a midterm paper for me.” …A bite of crow is survivable!

…Western Dave won the thread back a ways.

131

Salient 05.12.11 at 12:09 am

Anyway, Henry, I’ve raised a number of other issues that you haven’t addressed. That on purpose, or did you just want to settle this point first?

…there is a slice of pie for you to eat, sir. If you want any of us to show you the level of respect that addressing your subsequent comments would constitute, perhaps you should show us a spot of dignity, and impose upon Henry’s charity a little less. Thanks!

132

ScentOfViolets 05.12.11 at 12:12 am

And this is mind-boggling:

I’d add that I’ve never suggested that elite preferences were different from popular preferences; the two can (and, I think, do) reinforce each other. Krugman sort of insinuated that they were diametrically opposed without saying it directly, and Farrell kind of ran with that, but I see no reason to start from that assumption.

Given the two different populations, why would you assume their preferences are the same? This is just more of the same “prove to me that I’m wrong . . . to my satisfaction” schtick the weak rely on so much.

133

ckc (not kc) 05.12.11 at 12:12 am

…but then I wonder why they keep arguing with an idiot.

Service is slow – takes forever to get a beer. (PS – the tyranny of the majority is not necessarily a good thing)

134

Cranky Observer 05.12.11 at 12:13 am

> Mr. Winecoff @127
> Anyway, Henry, I’ve raised a number of other issues that
> you haven’t addressed. That on purpose, or did you just
> want to settle this point first?

Could you please address my question from earlier, as to when exactly the US voting public brought up the idea of repealing Glass-Steagall to its representatives? Also, when did the voting public decide that enforcement actions by the SEC and Justice Dept for laws and regulations still on the books should be essentially ended, and also when did the public decide that credit default swaps were a good idea? Note that the securitization of the mortgage market was complete by 1995 and working pretty well, so what exactly drove the average voter to demand that CDS’ be added on top of that system?

Thanks!

Cranky

135

IM 05.12.11 at 12:29 am

>Krugman’s case looks best if you looking at new policies in the past decade.<

But of course, that was Krugmans entire case. You are building a straw man.

136

Kindred Winecoff 05.12.11 at 1:15 am

@Andrew121, “Budget-busting” caveat noted. I was referring to the policies under discussion. Although within the context of Krugman’s general argument, I’m not sure why the public would have any more influence over non-budget-busting policies.

@Straightwood122, I confess that I’m not super-up on Mills. Maybe the influence of elites has grown, although I recall reading other literature (can’t recall cites right now) arguing that the political system is likely less corrupt now than in most previous periods, and the press less sycophantic, since information is more readily accessible. In any case, polemicists and propagandists are not new to the Republic.

@hopkin123, I didn’t realize we were changing the entire electoral system now. Nor was I referring only to those elected, since my whole point was that electoral outcomes would change little even if you added Bakunin and Bukharin into the primaries. Given the system we have, my point standards.

@Scent128, I’ve posted links to contemporary polls throughout this thread. Maybe you don’t buy polls, but have you got anything better?

@Scent132, Which populations are you referring to? My brother has a goddamn shrine to Ronald Reagan at his home… he at least believes that his preferences are the same as Reagan’s. Who are you to say he’s wrong?

@Salient130, Thanks for your charity (not being sarcastic). I’ll happily bite the bullet when someone demonstrates, rather than asserts, that the public bears no responsibility for policy. And I’ll let Henry decide when I’m imposing. He’s challenged me throughout this thread… it should be fine for me to push back.

@Cranky134, As far as I can tell, Krugman wrote nothing in 1999 opposing Gramm-Leach-Bliley. Since the crisis, he’s made oblique nods towards “deregulation-as-cause-of-crisis”, but has never (to my knowledge) singled out Glass-Steagall repeal as playing a causal role. DeLong, who’s with Krugman on most things, has explicitly argued that not only was Glass-Steagall repeal not to blame for the crisis, it probably helped by allowing quick mergers/acquisitions during the crisis. Moreover, it was the traditional investment banks (and mortgage lenders and insurances) that got into the most trouble the quickest, not the huge commercial/investment conglomerates; these were not affected by Glass-Steagall. A year ago, Krugman wrote in post titled “Glass-Steagal [sic], Part Deaux”:

“As I’ve written repeatedly, I don’t think that too-big-to-fail is at the heart of our financial problems. Nor do I think a sharp separation between narrow banking depository institutions and other financial players is a silver bullet: unless the shadow banking system is really reined in, financial institutions will create things that look like deposits, act like deposits, but don’t have an FDIC guarantee; yet in crisis, there will be strong incentives to bail them out anyway.”

http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/01/21/glass-steagal-part-deux/

So this is really a side issue, not related to what Krugman actually wrote. (CDS were created by private actors, not elites in the Bush administration, so I’m not sure what role voters would have played.) Meanwhile, the bill itself passed the Senate 90-8; in the House 362-57, and was signed by a Democratic president. Most likely the public didn’t even notice (I couldn’t find a poll), but I never said everything the legislature does nothing without expressed consent of the governed; just that in the policies Krugman is referring to, public approval is fairly easy to demonstrate via polling and voter behavior. Anyway, it’s hard to say that Gramm-Leach-Bliley was something that Republicans snuck through over protest.

As for the other stuff, a broad Republican constituency, including a large percentage of the public, is opposed to regulation as a matter of principle. The Summers/Rubin wing of the Democratic party agrees with them. Businesses small and large prefer little-to-no regulation. This isn’t just Brooks and his ilk, or even just the Bush administration. There’s a pretty large constituency for deregulation in finance, the environment, workplace safety, etc.

137

Straightwood 05.12.11 at 1:16 am

While we are bemused at the spectacle of a PhD candidate attempting to explain Beltway buffoonery as simple striving to earn the thanks of a grateful nation, let’s consider the current Republican efforts to serve the public:

1. Lying openly about the economic benefits of a sharply deflationary budget cutting program.

2. Lying openly about their intentions to tear down both Medicare and Social Security.

3. Openly advocating torture of captives in defiance of international law.

4. Deliberately unbalancing state budgets, then using manufactured deficits to justify crushing public sector unions.

No, no elites to blame here; the people demand impoverishment, torture, and union busting. Their will must be respected.

138

Bloix 05.12.11 at 1:17 am

“Unless, of course, Part D for some reason doesn’t count as one of the deficit policies that led us to this point despite the $10tn price tag, which is much higher than the Iraq war or the Bush tax cuts. Combined. In which case, I wonder what grounding his argument has when he eliminates the single biggest budget-busting policy from his characterization of the political dynamic.”

I call bullshit. See Figure 2 at Page 4 of this Pew Charitable Trust paper,
http://www.pewtrusts.org/uploadedFiles/wwwpewtrustsorg/Fact_Sheets/Economic_Policy/drivers_federal_debt_since_2001.pdf
It shows that the contribution of Medicare Part D to the deficit is perhaps a tenth of that of the unfunded wars and the tax cuts combined.

Really, the man is a stone liar. He will smear and lie and twist away, and arguing with him in good faith is a fool’s game.

139

ckc (not kc) 05.12.11 at 1:20 am

There’s a pretty large constituency for deregulation in finance, the environment, workplace safety, etc.

large? – perhaps… pretty? – not so much

140

Straightwood 05.12.11 at 1:32 am

Maybe the influence of elites has grown

Maybe?

Have you heard of the Citizens United decision? Are you aware of the demise of the Fairness Doctrine in broadcasting? Do you understand that five corporations dominate news media in the USA? Have you heard of the Koch brothers? Do you know that 44% of US congressional representatives are millionaires?

Maybe?

You really should re-evaluate the merit of an argumentative strategy consisting of “You can’t make me say I’m wrong.” You would be doing us all a favor and avoid further embarrassment on this thread.

141

IM 05.12.11 at 1:39 am

So deregulation was forced upon unwilling elites by the demands of a majority of the population?

142

IM 05.12.11 at 1:41 am

>No, no elites to blame here; the people demand impoverishment, torture, and union busting. Their will must be respected.<

I am really not so sure about torture. Sometimes vox populi is not vox dei.

143

ScentOfViolets 05.12.11 at 2:00 am

@Scent128, I’ve posted links to contemporary polls throughout this thread. Maybe you don’t buy polls, but have you got anything better?

Sigh. Are you really that bad at comprehending simple words and sentences? It’s been pointed out multiple times that those polls don’t say what you claim they do. In fact, you’re responding to a post where I point this out. Surely you’re not deliberately misunderstanding what I said, right ;-)

And btw, I don’t have to “have anything better”[1]; do you really think you can trick people into thinking the burden of proof is on them? You’re receiving a rather shabby education if you think this is just good rhetorical practice.

[1]Should I post anything, you’ll declare that “you’re not convinced”. Uh-uh. That’s the argument of a dullard or a deceitful weasel.

144

Lee A. Arnold 05.12.11 at 2:02 am

Kindred Winecoff @ 127: So your argument is that people’s liking for tax cuts creates a “policy space” which contradicts Krugman’s assertion that there was no “groundswell of popular demand” for them?

145

ScentOfViolets 05.12.11 at 2:06 am

@Scent132, Which populations are you referring to? My brother has a goddamn shrine to Ronald Reagan at his home… he at least believes that his preferences are the same as Reagan’s. Who are you to say he’s wrong?

Chuckle. I’m referring to the ones you brought up. And which you then allude to in your second sentence, silly. I need hardly point out that your third sentence has little bearing on what Ronald Reagan’s preferences actually were. Really, this is going far past willful obtuseness, far past a simple inability to admit you’re wrong. This is nothing more than bad faith. Having done the PhD thing myself (most people here have either earned some sort of advanced degree or carry some sort of professional credentials), I’d say that if your thesis is anything like how you argue here, well, that’s seven years of your life wasted with nothing to show for it.

146

Salient 05.12.11 at 2:17 am

I’ll happily bite the bullet when someone demonstrates, rather than asserts, that the public bears no responsibility for policy.

You’ll… bite the bullet for flamboyantly declaring someone to be six-year-oldish… when someone proves to your technical satisfaction that you were rather silly in reply? Ugh.

And I’ll let Henry decide when I’m imposing.

…well, he sounded pretty exasperated in that last comment. I guess you mean to say, “I’ll be thrown out when I’m thrown out!” Fair ‘nough. Honestly, at this point I’m just saddened to see so many lovely people expending their time interlocuting with you. Henry’s first response was best: count me (and quite a lot of us) in with the unsophisticated six-year-olds. Why a college professor’s expending so much effort lecturing to people he perceives as first graders is beyond me, but then, why are so many of us affording you the consideration of a reply?

147

ckc (not kc) 05.12.11 at 2:26 am

I’ll happily bite the bullet when someone demonstrates, rather than asserts, that the public bears no responsibility for policy.

I assume you mean “sip the hemlock”…

Government bears the responsibility for policy – their ability/willingness to respond to the public is a political choice – the consequences are determined by the political system. Blaming the public for the poor decisions of the government or the weaknesses of the political system is a valid option, but it lets those who govern (and those who take advantage of the political system to put them in power) off the hook. And they should be – on the hook – as they’ve chosen to be.

148

ScentOfViolets 05.12.11 at 2:37 am

I’ll happily bite the bullet when someone demonstrates, rather than asserts, that the public bears no responsibility for policy.

You’ll… bite the bullet for flamboyantly declaring someone to be six-year-oldish… when someone proves to your technical satisfaction that you were rather silly in reply? Ugh.

There’s also the slight point that insofar as I know, no one has been arguing this to begin with. Certainly not Krugman, which has been demonstrated several times with quotes, and which was the original contention of the would-be PhD candidate.

149

William Timberman 05.12.11 at 2:41 am

Kindred Winecoff. Audaces fortuna juvat. In plain English, don’t feed the trolls. This has been an interesting thread, but in the end, bear-baiting is no sport for a gentleman.

150

Consumatopia 05.12.11 at 2:43 am

Krugman says that it wasn’t X that caused Z, it was Y.

There are two ways to read that. One is that X had zero effect on Z, Z was absolutely and completely determined by Y.

The other is that Y had a greater effect on Z than X did.

Given we’re talking about a short, informal blog post, and a short, informal newspaper editorial,
I think a fair reading would assume that Krugman meant the more reasonable one.

Consider the context: a member of Y (Brooks) has published his own editorial not only blaming X but insisting that X is untrustworthy and Y should create new “institutional arrangements” taking some degree of power away from X (which actually seems even more moralistic than Krugman’s explanation). To refute this, Krugman doesn’t have to show that X had absolutely zero responsibility, he only has to show that Y has more responsibility than X.

151

Kindred Winecoff 05.12.11 at 2:46 am

Bloix138, I was quoting Krugman with the $9.4tn number, and included the part of the quote that said it was a long-run cost. (I agree with Krugman’s usual argument that long-run costs are much more important than short-run costs, especially in a recession.) I did not lie, twist, or smear. If you don’t like the number, take it up with Krugman.

Straightwood140, Elites have influence, yes. Elites have always had influence. Whether that influence now is greater, lesser, or about the same as it’s been in the past is open for inquiry I think. Eg, JP Morgan was more influential than Jamie Dimon, by a mile; The Koch Bros got nothing on Rockefeller. Etc.

Scent, 143. Sigh yourself. I’ve linked to polls showing a) That the public overwhelmingly knew that the Bush tax cuts majorly favored the rich; b) That they approved of them anyway (but at lower margins). Here it is again:

http://pewresearch.org/databank/dailynumber/?NumberID=1148

Krugman concedes the point on Part D. So that leaves Iraq. Every poll showed the public in favor. Some have argued that that doesn’t count because the public was deceived into thinking that Iraq was involved in 9/11 and represented a clear and present danger. True, but if they hadn’t been deceived they might’ve still favored invading Iraq in 2003. They did in 1991, after all, despite not being attacked or threatened, and the mood of the country from 2001-2003 was pretty damn militaristic. The authorization to use force (by elites that could/should have known better) passed 77-23 in the Senate and 297-133 in the House, and there was no public backlash in the 2004 election.

Also, I would happily revise my argument if people provided one single piece of evidence that the public had no influence over the policies Krugman’s talking about. To this point, no one’s done that. Since that was the claim that started this discussion, that’s where the burden of proof lies.

Lee144, My argument is close enough to that; I’m not sure if you’re trying to split hairs, but Krugman’s is that tax cuts “weren’t responses to public demand”. They weren’t standing outside the White House with pitchforks, but the public in general wanted tax cuts (Drezner’s graph), and even approved of the cuts that highly favored the wealthy (my link above).

A question for all of you that think my perspective (that the public influences policy choices) is ridiculous: Was the ending of the Vietnam War, by Nixon no less, in any way influenced by the public? How about the inability of Bush to privatize Social Security? Why did McCain change his views on the tax cuts, torture/Gitmo, immigration, and a number of other issues from 2004-2008?

Here’s a look at public opinion (in a time series) for both Vietnam and Iraq:

http://www.gallup.com/poll/11998/iraqvietnam-comparison.aspx

Here’s a bunch of links showing that Social Security privatization was always very unpopular, despite Bush’s very active campaigning:

http://www.google.com/search?sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8&q=bush+social+security+poll

152

Loviatar 05.12.11 at 2:48 am

Henry/ et al,

Even Winecoff himself agrees with me, why continue the discussion.

“Maybe that makes me self-evidently stupid. Folks are free to conclude that if they like, but then I wonder why they keep arguing with an idiot.

Again my suggestion, just point and mock his future blog utterances and then ignore his feeble attempts at response. As he said its not worth your time.

153

Andrew 05.12.11 at 2:53 am

I will have more to say on this discussion tomorrow morning.

For now, let’s all try to be more civil to each other. Civil discourse is absolutely required for a community to improve and strengthen its discussions. There’s nothing wrong with ribbing, or some jokes. But the pointless personal insults serve no purposes other than to deter participation in the discussions. Indeed, they dramatically reduce the quality of a thread.

I was part of a group that ran a much larger website, with various discussion forums. This blog is quite different, and so please take my advice as that of a humble outsider. For comment threads with recurrent partricipants, the key would be clear rules, followed by clear punishments. Anything else, and you raise the cost for a commentator you want to participate – in essence you discourage him. And part of the key to this blog being “successful” (under any of the various models of success you might have) is that the comment threads should be interesting, lively, informative, and not hostile.

Of course, this may come with more housekeeping/moderating than you wish. But your end result might be a better blog.

154

LFC 05.12.11 at 2:54 am

Salient @130 — ok, I should have picked up the ‘infamy’ reference (‘internet infamy’ was actually the phrase).

On re-reading the OP, I note Henry’s reference to the public sometimes having contradictory preferences (or attitudes) — I point I also stressed earlier. I agree with the OP that “elites play an extremely important role in US policy making,” but only some of that role is what commenters have emphasized: manipulation of public opinion and relatively crude influencing of the legislative process via campaign contributions. A large other part has to do with the ability to hire very specialized expertise (from among, e.g., the thousands of lawyers who practice in one or another narrow area).

Many decisions of consequence are buried deep in lengthy pieces of legislation, hidden ‘in plain sight’ in federal register notices or tucked away in arcane regulations, and those who have influence in these cases tend to be those who have a very direct stake in the details of the particular regulatory or tax or trade (or whatever) issue, along with the specialists they hire, along with one or two key legislators or other decision-makers. At any rate these are the impressions I’ve formed from having spent most (though not all) of my life in or around Washington, albeit not as one directly involved in the processes in question.

155

Consumatopia 05.12.11 at 2:55 am

from http://pewresearch.org/databank/dailynumber/?NumberID=1148 as linked @151

Still, at the time, the Bush tax plan was supported by a 43%-to-34% margin

That’s plurality, not majority support. Which matters when it comes to assigning shares of the blame.

156

Robert 05.12.11 at 2:57 am

Speaking of political science and economic man – has Crooked Timber ever conducted an extensive discussion of Green and Shapiro’s Pathologies of Rational Choice Theory?

I don’t think a foolish knave is wasting his time in getting a PhD. The credential – I guess – is useful in getting others to, at least, pretend to take your balderdash seriously.

I welcome Straightwood’s (140) correction on how many corporations own the US media.

I’d like to propose that we do not say “MSM” anymore. Let’s say “Corporate media”.

157

Consumatopia 05.12.11 at 2:58 am

People saying nonsense is definitely a bigger contribution to comment noise than people pointing out the nonsense.

158

LFC 05.12.11 at 3:05 am

To be clear, my comment @154 is not about how much elites (as opposed to ‘the public’) influence policy (which has been the focus of the debate in this thread), but rather on the particular ways in which elites influence policy, when they do.

159

Lee A. Arnold 05.12.11 at 3:37 am

Kindred #151: No I am not trying to split hairs, I am trying to understand the basis upon which you are making the distinction. I don’t know, but I would imagine that tax cuts have polled well for a hundred years. But we also know that most people believe that they should pay for what they get. Are you saying that, if an opinion poll had been conducted in 2001 which directly asked whether you would accept tax cuts if it meant the end of Medicare and Social Security, and the answer was a majority saying, “No, let’s keep Medicare and Social Security” as is most likely if not certain, then therefore you would concede that the push for the tax cuts was from Alan Greenspan and Richard “this is our due” Cheney, and therefore, Krugman is correct? In other words, quite aside from whether or not a “policy space” is a “groundswell”: Is the actual existence of an opinion poll to be the deciding factor for the configuration of “policy space”, for you?

160

Yarrow 05.12.11 at 3:38 am

Salient: Why a college professor’s expending so much effort lecturing to people he perceives as first graders is beyond me, but then, why are so many of us affording you the consideration of a reply?

Were it not contradicted by all I know of his other actions and general character, I’d suspect Henry of a sly plot to inveigle not-entirely-insane rightwingers into insanely long Crooked Timber threads where they make fools of themselves. Still, Kindred, count yourself lucky that Henry’s words on your behalf have so far been limited to “badly wrong” but “[not] deliberately dishonest”. Provoking him even to such a mild and uncomplimentary apologia seems to have put you in grave danger of getting trapped in this thread. Should something rouse him to full-throated defense, I fear nothing could save you from the Dread Fate that awaited Orin Kerr.

161

Yarrow 05.12.11 at 4:01 am

P.S. Here’s a comment by LizardBreath, quoted by Brad De Long in a post about the Unfogged thread about the CT thread: “A large part of what made Kerr so irritating was that he was largely saying things that were true but inapplicable, or that depended on an equivocal use of language.”

One last piece of advice: If people on another site start talking about your behavior here, and someone on a third site makes a post summarizing the talk on the second site, do not comment on that post.

162

Straightwood 05.12.11 at 4:50 am

Elites have always had influence. Whether that influence now is greater, lesser, or about the same as it’s been in the past is open for inquiry I think.

I cannot imagine you to be so obtuse as to dismiss the invention of broadcast media and the continuous and heavily funded refinement of media-borne propaganda as an unknown factor in the control of public opinion by elites. Thus, I must conclude that you are arguing in bad faith. And with that conclusion I end my participation in this thread.

163

jeff 05.12.11 at 4:54 am

Speaking of political science and economic man – has Crooked Timber ever conducted an extensive discussion of Green and Shapiro’s Pathologies of Rational Choice Theory?

I don’t think a foolish knave is wasting his time in getting a PhD. The credential – I guess – is useful in getting others to, at least, pretend to take your balderdash seriously.

Robert,

Most political scientists are not aherents to rational choice theory. It is a minority approach to PS.

164

Ben 05.12.11 at 5:02 am

Seconding Consumatopia@150. Besides anything else, Winecoff is arguing against a position Krugman doesn’t take.

Krugman: “The idea is that we got into this mess because voters wanted something for nothing, and weak-minded politicians catered to the electorate’s foolishness . . . the fact is that what we’re experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. The policies that got us into this mess weren’t responses to public demand. They were, with few exceptions, policies championed by small groups of influential people.”

Winecoff: “I read Krugman as denying the first step; the public doesn’t want these things at all, and the elites just do whatever they want. ”

No. “The passage of these specific policies weren’t responses to public demand” is not equivalent to “public opinion had no role in the passage of these explicit policies.”

Consumatopia: “There are two ways to read [Krugman’s statement]. One is that X had zero effect on Z, Z was absolutely and completely determined by Y.

The other is that Y had a greater effect on Z than X did.

Given we’re talking about a short, informal blog post, and a short, informal newspaper editorial, I think a fair reading would assume that Krugman meant the more reasonable one.”

Yes. Krugman uses examples that explicitly rely on public opinion being a factor in a policy’s passage. He argues that doesn’t mean these policies are thus responses to public demand. He argues that Y had a greater effect on Z than X did, not that X had no effect on Z.

165

IM 05.12.11 at 6:06 am

@Kindred:
What Consumatopia and Ben (and I think now many others) said: You are arguing against a straw man. That is dishonest. Nobody did take the extreme position you invented out of thin air that the public has never any influence in any democracy known to political scientists.

166

Martin Bento 05.12.11 at 7:58 am

Kindred, does influence confer culpability or does it not? If I cannot compel you to do something, but influence your decision to do it, am I in part responsible for your behavior? Your entire argument commits you to the answer “yes”. The public could not and did not compel the tax cuts or the Iraq War. If influence does not confer culpability, then, the public is entirely off the hook for anything the elite does, no matter how ardently it supports it. Case closed.

Since you deny this, you affirm that influence conveys culpability. But somehow this vanishes when it is a question of the elite influencing the public, rather than the other way around. You have consistently maintained that it is irrelevant whether public support of elite policies reflects elite influence, even dishonestly exercised, e.g., “Whether the public formed these views under false pretenses is another question.” #16. You can’t have it both ways. If it matters that the elite was influenced by public opinion, then it matters that the public was influenced by elite opinion.

And we are dealing here with cases where the public has little choice but to credit elite opinion, as it has no other route to reliable information, and where that authority was wielded dishonestly. According to your cited pollin #93, 54% of the public supported the Iraq War when it began. The elite had spent close to a year promoting the ideas that 1) Saddam had weapons of mass destruction 2) Saddam was likely implicated in the 9/11 attack. and 3) Saddam was protecting al Queda operatives (Zarqawi). All of these are things the public cannot determine on its own, and normally relies on the elite to answer, and the ability and willingness to provide honest answers is a great deal of the justification for having an elite in the first place. All of them were false and were dishonestly asserted or insinuated.

You suggest that the public might have supported the war anyway. By your own account, we are talking about 54% support when the war was started – a 4% margin – here. Are you seriously ready to argue that if the WMD, 9/11, and Zarqawi claims had never been made, that would have made a difference to less than 4% of the population?

You cite the fact that the majority supported the first Iraq War as evidence that they might have supported the second even absent the lies. Since the context is different, this is intrinsically a weaker argument than looking at how small the margin and huge the whoppers were in the actual event, but even taking this notion seriously, you do realize that support for GW1 was also obtained through fraud, right? The daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador masqueraded as a nurse and blubbered to Congress about genocide committed on Kuwaiti babies in incubators. Pure fabrication. But, really, it doesn’t matter. It is difficult to believe that anyone can honestly argue that the huge lies about the Iraq War swayed less than 4% of the population in any case.

167

Phil 05.12.11 at 8:42 am

KW: Krugman concedes the point on Part D.

This is through the looking glass. The entire point of this thread is that Krugman didn’t make the argument you ascribed to him in the first place. You can’t belatedly recognise that fact and then score it in favour of your position.

There are two substantive points here. One is that Krugman quite demonstrably never said – and there are no good reasons to read him as implying – that public opinion has no influence over policies such as health care reform, Iraq, tax cuts usw. (You could start by conceding that one, it would clear the air.) The other is that, for a whole host of reasons, some of which go back to the Founding Fathers (try talking to them about ‘democracy’), anyone who talks about public opinion in the US as an independent force which drives government policy is going to have to do an awful lot of work to make this view stand up. Either that or engage in a lot of bait-and-switchery with words like ‘approve’. E.g.

The people may have been wrong, ignorant, or deceived, but you just can’t say that they didn’t approve

which I’ll leave to stand without comment.

168

Cranky Observer 05.12.11 at 10:48 am

> @Cranky134, As far as I can tell, Krugman wrote nothing in 1999
> opposing Gramm-Leach-Bliley. Since the crisis, he’s made oblique
> nods towards “deregulation-as-cause-of-crisis”, but has never
> (to my knowledge) singled out Glass-Steagall repeal as playing a
> causal role. DeLong, who’s with Krugman on most things, has
> explicitly argued that not only was Glass-Steagall repeal not
> to blame for the crisis, it probably helped by allowing quick
> mergers/acquisitions during the crisis.

Surely it has not escaped your attention that (1) Prof. DeLong was an Assistant Secretary of the Treasury at the time Glass-Steagall was repealed (2) Prof. DeLong is an acolyte of Laurence Summers (3) At the height of the financial crisis, Prof. DeLong harbored hopes of being named Secretary of the Treasury in the Obama Administration? Much as I like reading his analysis, he is neither objective nor a non-elite on many in economics and high finance including this one.

Cranky

169

Tim Wilkinson 05.12.11 at 10:48 am

Partial binary decision tree for assessing whether the WineCoff/Drezner position meets basic standards of responsiveness to reality – N.B., a reality which does not change just because certain observations made about it are ‘old’ or regarded as constituting too devastating a critique of US ‘democracy’. (Selected and arranged so as to make likely a quick resolution):

Does it rely on the idea that a populace that in the short run is constantly misinformed in the most gross and blatant way and in the longer run kept in a staggeringly ignorant and ill-educated state should nonetheless be regarded as freely choosing policy options?
Y –fail
N
|
Still here?
Y
|
Does it rest on the claim that public opinion forms anything but a very weak and pliable external constraint on politicians who are bought and paid for by powerful (largely business) interests and spend all their time talking to those business interests, and on whom the only meaningful influence of public opinion is a system of periodic elections under a deeply unproportional system in which (when it’s not actually rigged by its own standards as it blatantly was in 2000, see also 2004) they choose between two (proxies for) very similar sets of politicians whose ‘revolving door’ with business means getting out of politics forms part of their career plan?
Y –fail
N
|
Does it make central an appeal to poll evidence which looks only at the most superficial questions (or irrelevant ones, such as ‘are you personally paying too much tax’), while ignoring other indications of underlying stable opinions, such as the table on that Gallup page which shows that consistently around 60% (+) of respondents say that upper-income people (which probably refers to the top tercile or so in fact, rather than the top tax bands) are paying less than their fair share of federal income tax?
Y –fail
N
|
Does it treat ‘elite’ policy aims, even at the level of tactics on the ground, as invariant over time (and indeed as not subject to any kind of decompositional ‘vector’-like analysis), while supposing that public opinion is characterised by a kind of endogenous Brownian motion?
Y –fail
N
|
Still here?
Y
|
Does it favour the policy status quo by a ‘revealed-preference’-like strategy of considering only such small changes to existing policy as are actually proposed by ‘elites’, leading to such inferences as: since the public demand credit access [, esp] for housing and higher education, they demand credit access, rather than that they demand housing and higher education; or since the public demand healthcare, they demand an expansion of (rapaciously) profit-driven medical services?
Y –fail
N
|
In resolving apparent contradictions in poll responses, does it give equal (or indeed couter-intuitively reversed) weight to apparent public desire for substantial policies such as ‘expanded health coverage’ (which one would hope would reflect a desire for a basic civilised system of proper medical treatment for all), and ideologically-laden non-issues such as ‘government not to run the health system’, as if neither of these expressed desires is more dependent on a systematic and long-standing propaganda campaign than the other?
Y –fail
N
|
Does it rely heavily on recycling dead ducks such as blaming the housing bubble on public policy initiatives rather than on speculation, institutionalised fraud and, less proximately, the negative policy of deregulation (see also: ‘want housing, credit necessary for housing – > want credit-for-housing – > want credit’), or claiming that the invasion of Iraq, wasn’t a long-standing aim of Cheney and the neocons (‘Bush’) constrained by elite and international opinion, and, er, not being in office, rather than the iron shackles of pacifist public opinion?
Y–fail
N
|
Decision remains open: begin reasonable discussion.

170

candle 05.12.11 at 11:52 am

Brooks: Air is composed purely of oxygen.
Krugman: Actually, it is pretty well established that air is predominantly nitrogen, even though it has oxygen in it as well.
Winecoff: Why did you say that air contains no oxygen? Are you a six-year-old?
Farrell: Er, what? Nobody is saying that.
Winecoff: But Krugman specifically said air is predominantly nitrogen.
Farrell/Commenters: Yes, and…?
Winecoff: Well, obviously there is nitrogen in air, but there is oxygen too!
Commenters: Yes, and Krugman explicitly said that. Maybe you should back down?
Winecoff (@136): I won’t back down until someone proves that air contains no oxygen!

Now, who in this exchange most resembles a six-year-old?

171

Barry 05.12.11 at 12:20 pm

Kindred @153: “Here’s a bunch of links showing that Social Security privatization was always very unpopular, despite Bush’s very active campaigning:”

The only argument that supports is an argument saying that at the extremes, public opinion can stop certain things. It does not support an argument that the primary, or even a major driver of policy is public opinion.

Seriously, dude, take some logic classes.

172

R.Mutt 05.12.11 at 12:36 pm

Kindred: But none of that changes the fact that the public influences policy in very important ways.

Not all of the public, though:

Gilens has been collecting the results of nearly 2,000 survey questions reaching back to the 1980s, looking for evidence that when opinions change, so too does policy. And he found it—but only for the rich. “Most policy changes with majority support didn’t become law,” Hacker and Pierson write. The exception was “when they were supported by those at the top. When the opinions of the poor diverged from those of the well-off, the opinions of the poor ceased to have any apparent influence: If 90 percent of poor Americans supported a policy change, it was no more likely to happen than if 10 percent did. By contrast, when more of the well-off supported a change, it was substantially more likely to happen.”

173

chris 05.12.11 at 1:55 pm

I was quoting Krugman with the $9.4tn number, and included the part of the quote that said it was a long-run cost. (I agree with Krugman’s usual argument that long-run costs are much more important than short-run costs, especially in a recession.) I did not lie, twist, or smear.

I think we all hope the Iraq War won’t last 75 years, but if it did, it would surely cost more than $10 trillion; I don’t know what the Bush tax cuts would cost over 75 years but I guess it would also be more than $10 trillion. You’re comparing the potential cost of one program over an extremely long time period (which, since it’s health care cost, is very substantially back-loaded, even if the assumptions for future growth aren’t especially pessimistic) to the potential cost of other programs over a shorter time period, *without* reducing them to per-year costs.

This is blatantly dishonest, if deliberate. There’s just no way anyone with the intelligence to write complete sentences can think that is a reasonable comparison.

174

mpowell 05.12.11 at 2:14 pm

This has gotten damn near hopeless. Krugman has conceded the point on medicare part D? Go back and read the article. I don’t think his argument is to subtle for you, so I think you should be able to grasp why your responses up to this point have not been adequate. He grants the public’s desire for a medicare part D type of plan, but claims that the specific implementation chosen was chosen by elites and lobbyists and the excess costs in the plan are entirely due to these choices. If you want, engage with this point. But you are accusing Krugman of acting like a 6 year old when you are the one refusing to deal with the policy-making process with just a second level of sophistication.

More generally, I am sick and tired of all the abuse that Krugman gets. If you’re a Republican, fine, I can understand why you’d hate him. But all these non-politicals or ‘centrists’ who find his tone too strident and think that gives them reason to lash out at him for being too extremist? You people suck. Krugman is the best, most reliability voice for sane public policy and analysis with that kind of visibility. He’s not always right, but he frequently is when everybody else is wrong (which is tremendously valuable) and he’s almost always reasonable. In this context, his critics increasingly sound like petulant children.

175

Lee A. Arnold 05.12.11 at 2:39 pm

I think the error is of a different sort. Kindred Winecoff wrote at #13, “I was protesting Krugman’s moralism, and suggesting that even the most simplistic view of politics suggests an interest-based explanation works better.”

Not with regard to public opinion as a whole! I assure you I take a backseat to no one in simplemindedness, and it is very clear to me that, although there are large interest group politics in the United States that can only be properly understood by interest-based explanation, and indeed Wall Street nearly runs the country, the fact is that the public, AS A WHOLE, is most easily understood and predicted as being simply moral in nature. The public wants fairness and always asks whether an issue is good for everybody. And, contra Henry’s comment that “on many important policy issues, the public has no preferences whatsoever,” the public always prefers fairness, right on down the line. You can absolutely depend upon it, it is the quintessence of the “policy space”: Q. Should rich people pay more taxes? A. Yes, but they should also be left with more after-tax income. Q. Did we invade Iraq, a country with the second-largest oil reserves on the planet? A. Yes, and we should leave as soon as possible, as they have a every right to determine their own future. Q. Should we help poor people with food and medicine? A. Yes, and we also should make every attempt to get them onto their own two feet. …You don’t even need an opinion poll, just go talk to anybody. I have been watching opinion polls for thirty years, and they are absolutely predictable based upon the morality of fairness.

Politicians and lobbyists know this. It is a major key to formulation of misleading rhetoric in support of interest groups! Indeed, public opinion fairness is near the center of the political problems in Washington at this moment, because the underlying system is evidently immoral, and it is falling over the contradictions in its rhetoric.

So if you write something like, “Even now, at this moment, the public wants to keep its small slivers of the Bush tax cuts” …well yes, but only because (1) the recession is hurting people, and (2) there remains a strong reaction to the unfairness of the financial bailouts. But once those factors are reversed, or dissipated, then tax hikes to fund the safety-nets will receive majority support, in a New York minute. Watch, to see it happen.

In fact I would take my predictions based upon morality one step further, and then I am finished on this thread: It is going to drive a stake through the unbeating heart of the free market zombie vampires, or whatever in hell they are, in regard to healthcare. Because we are running headlong into a situation where we will not deny medical treatment to everybody’s grannies, but the system of bank money creation is not providing us with enough cash to pay for it, because that system only works if innovations get cheaper, not continuously more expensive. We are talking about innovations in avoiding mortality. So we are finally going to print the money, and give cost of living increases to the service providers. It will be a two-tier system with private coverage on top — because again, the public wants fairness for everybody, so if you want and can afford freedom in this matter, then you shall have it — but the shape of the future is morally unavoidable.

176

Andrew 05.12.11 at 3:02 pm

KW@136: “Budget-busting” caveat noted. I was referring to the policies under discussion. Although within the context of Krugman’s general argument, I’m not sure why the public would have any more influence over non-budget-busting policies.

Really Krugman’s underlying view is a modified “What’s the Matter with Kansas” thesis. As Krugman states, [p]eople like myself – members of what one scornful Bush aide called the “reality-based community” – tend to attribute the right’s electoral victories to its success at spreading policy disinformation.

Krugman explains the failure of other Bush policy initiatives by claiming that in those cases the Republicans failed to successfully con the public. So the public has influence, but the public can also be conned in a variety of ways.

That said, I understand why someone would derive, from the column itself, the impression that Krugman thinks the public doesn’t matter much – that it’s largely the elites who control policy. And the conclusions he derives from this view – that our deficit problems are mainly caused by policies entirely attributable to GOP elites – are certainly simplistic.

My personal view is that column is more political gamesmanship than serious argument. The three “main causes” of our deficit problem that Krugman selects are not likely to persist into the long-term. They can be resolved by simply adopting three policies more favored by the Democrats: more money for job-creation programs, withdrawal from Afghanistan and Iraq, and removing the Bush tax cuts. So we don’t really have a deficit problem, to the extent we do we should blame the Republican elites, and to fix it completely we should elect Democrats who will implement Krugman’s policies. How satisfying.

177

Henry 05.12.11 at 3:06 pm

Dude – what Phil said in 166. There is a substantial difference between “Krugman concedes the point” and “Winecoff bollocksed up his interpretation of Krugman.” Let me explain the difference.

“Krugman concedes the point” implies something like the following. Krugman loudly announces, while twirling his waxed radical-crazy mustachios, that “the public has no role whatsoever in setting policy.” Kindred Winecoff detects that this is the argument of an unsophisticated six-year old, and announces that the Krugman has no clothes, to cheers and gasps of awe from the plain peoples of the Internets. Krugman cries out, “Foiled again! If it weren’t for you damn kids, I’d have gotten away with it” and hops into his Hot Tub Time Machine (they hand ‘em out with tenure at Princeton) to go back a few days into the past so that he can retrospectively write a blogpost with qualifications about Medicare Part D, and hence minimize the damage to his reputation.

“Winecoff bollocksed up his interpretation of Krugman” works as follows. Kindred Winecoff reads Krugman. He then writes a blogpost calling Krugman an unsophisticated six-year old, because (in his not especially impartial interpretation) Krugman believes that the public plays no role in determining policy. Winecoff then advances his own alternative argument, in which Medicare Part D etc happen because the public want them to happen. People come along and point out that Winecoff’s alternative argument isn’t very good, and that his interpretation of Krugman isn’t any great shakes either. Winecoff partially concedes on the former, but doesn’t want to concede on the latter. When it is pointed out to Winecoff that Krugman has made specific arguments on Medicare Part D that are precisely the opposite of those that Winecoff attributes to him, Winecoff doesn’t see this as evidence e.g. that his initial claims about Krugman were based on a rather obnoxious and demonstrably false caricature, but instead as some sort of ‘concession’ that Krugman is making to Winecoff’s argument. Imaginary Paul Krugman – the one who believes that the public has nothing, ever, to do with politics, could never say such a thing. Therefore, by definition, Imaginary Paul Krugman hasn’t said it. Quod. Erat. Demonstrandum.

Less sarcastically – I didn’t address most of your arguments, because they are based around a demonstrably fallacious claim – that Krugman, in your words, “thinks that democratic politics does not exist.’ To the contrary. His argument is entirely compatible with a theory of democracy in which one believes that democratic controls on elites in the US exist but are sometimes weak, and are particularly weak with regard to issues such as taxes (which, as I have noted, are highly technical and poorly understood by the public), financial regulation (ditto), and war (where any argument that the US invasion of Iraq was _driven_ by public demand seems to me to be a complete non-starter). It could plausibly be that Krugman puts too much weight on elites, and too little on public opinion. That is a reasonable argument that you can have with him. It could _not_ be that Krugman believes – as you have repeatedly claimed he does – that the public has no role whatsoever in determining policy. He has explicitly argued to the contrary. As several commentators have pointed out, you are building a straw man here, and insisting that he is not a straw man, even as the stuffing starts to bulge out through the seams.

Your follow up arguments on Medicare Part D are not, to put it mildly, convincing. When you quote Krugman as having said “The policies that got us into this mess weren’t responses to public demand” and then say:

bq. He also wrote (in a different place that I wasn’t originally referring too but probably should have), that Part D was responsive to public demand. So either Part D isn’t one of “the policies that got us into” deficit, or his argument is specious.

You seem somehow to have missed the next sentence of the op-ed:

bq. They were, _with few exceptions,_ policies championed by small groups of influential people — in many cases, the same people now lecturing the rest of us on the need to get serious.

I highlight the ‘few exceptions’ bit for your information. NB that the obvious rejoinder doesn’t apply. When someone mentions that there are exceptions to a generalization, and when that person has spelled out the major exception in detail a couple of days earlier, explicitly discussing the bits of it that support his overall claim, and the bits that do not, this is not a “with notably rare exceptions” moment. This is what we call in the business, “honest argument.”

On the $9.4 trillion price tag for Medicare Part D – when one is comparing (as you, not Krugman, want to do) a cost over 75 years, with a cost over a shorter and more immediate period, such as the Iraq war, one uses some appropriate form of discounting for the former, nicht wahr? Otherwise, one runs the risk of setting up a very distorted and misleading comparison. As for comparisons with the Bush tax cuts – the estimated cost of the Bush tax cuts over the next ten years is over 5 trillion. I am not an actuary, but I think it is fair to say that the 75 year cost will be some quite significant multiple of that. I think it is fair to say that your accounting of the relevant costs does not provide particularly convincing evidence that Krugman is being dishonest here. And if you can detect a contradiction between what Krugman said about Medicare back in the day, and what he said last week, you are seeing something that I am not seeing.

I really suggest that you should listen to Salient (and my earlier advice) and try to think more clearly about your overall position here. As I see it, you wrote a polemical blogpost that was based around an uncharitable and erroneous interpretation of someone whom you obviously don’t like. You’ve then tried to defend that erroneous interpretation through arguments that don’t really add up. That makes it awkward to climb down and admit that your original post was wrong. But it gets more awkward, rather than less awkward, as time goes on. I know this because I’ve been there, as have most others who get involved in vigorous internet debates. You stake a claim to something, and don’t want to give up on it, even when you are not at all sure of your original ground (the famous XKCD cartoon should maybe have gone ‘I can’t. This is important. Someone on the Internet says I’m wrong’). But it actually _is_ easier to admit it and go on in life. To put it another way – try to think through how your arguments in your original post, follow-up and in this thread had been made not by you, but by Paul Krugman (perhaps when he was criticizing someone who you took seriously). Do you think that you would find this logic of argument convincing if it were coming from Krugman, not from you?

178

JM 05.12.11 at 3:42 pm

The public knew the tax cuts favored the rich because most of them can count. The argument was, and the fetus knows this, that the cuts were still proportionate and just. The rich were getting more in tax cuts because they paid more in taxes. The GAO showed, however, that the aggregate tax burden on the middle class actually went up by the middle of the decade.

In the 2004 election, the share of self-identified Republicans who believed in an al Qaeda/Iraq connection actually went up. Looking for a backlash is just an argument from silence, not to mention ignorance.

So once again, in defense of bait and switch politics, we’re offered bait and switch apologia.

179

michael e sullivan 05.12.11 at 4:11 pm

JM@91: “Are we really to believe that Drezner can’t see the word “you” on his first little chart? Really?”

You know, Dan seemed like a reasonable enough kid when he was a year behind me in high school (I didn’t keep up with him past that though). The town we both lived in at the time was definitely a major upper middle class white sinecure. My parents were very liberal by the town’s standards, but pretty middle of the road in general (sometime republican voting, unexamined subtle racism and classism, the usual maladies of upper middle class whites).

I tend to believe he’s more in the grip of elite-culture serving and error-filled mental models soaked up with mother’s milk and reinforced by nearly everyone presented to him as someone to look up to than that he’s intentionally lying.

It’s very easy to look at that statement and that chart and not notice that the question is phrased in a way that is almost guaranteed to produce the answer he’s looking for. Yes there are other polls with other questions, but he probably (and at least somewhat legitimately) feels that asking whether some other person should pay higher taxes isn’t exactly a fair judge of how the public would balance pain/gain on the issue either.

I’ve met too many people I don’t think are evil that are in the grip of similar mental models about taxation and government to believe that they are all just liars. They are making the same *kind* of mistake that we all tend to make when it come to politics — ignoring the real evidence demonstrated by our opponents, and updating our opinions firmer and firmer when we read the exact same evidence by our compatriots over and over. These are natural human biases, and they cause huge problems in our politics.

I agree 100% that those who knowingly manipulate these biases for profit/gain/status are simply evil, and I believe there are a number of such people in the republican establishment. People who don’t seem to care at all about accuracy and simply parrot the party line may not be evil in the same sense, but they are certainly terribly and dangerously negligent, and it is fair to call them hacks. There are plenty of these among the journalistic (and republican and democratic, though many more on the right) establishment.

My gut says that Daniel Drezner is neither. I think he’s often stubbornly wrong, but what I’ve seen of him demonstrates a desire to research and think rationally about our problems and to discern what is true. I believe that he is wrong mostly for the same sort of reasons I am sometimes stubbornly wrong.

I don’t know enough about KW to have a strong opinion but this thread is not auspicious.

180

Henry 05.12.11 at 4:13 pm

oh, and as a sidenote to Andrew @121, the Medicare Part D bit _was_ in Winecoff’s original post (the bit in my post above is a direct quote from it).

181

Kevin Donoghue 05.12.11 at 4:42 pm

The problem here is a more general problem with the field of international political economy, which frankly (and I say this as someone who writes in the field and teaches it) has an extremely weak understanding of how policy is made.

Damned if I’m going to read all the comments in this thread, but it seems worth remarking that Krugman’s “Peddling Prosperity” gives a pretty good account of how he thinks policy is made. Since there’s rather more to Krugman than there is to Den Beste, a good “shorter” is difficult to compose, but it might look like this: The public can’t be bothered to study complex issues so policy entrepreneurs make suckers of them with policies which purport to serve their interests, but don’t.

182

chris 05.12.11 at 5:21 pm

Since there’s rather more to Krugman than there is to Den Beste, a good “shorter” is difficult to compose, but it might look like this: The public can’t be bothered to study complex issues so policy entrepreneurs make suckers of them with policies which purport to serve their interests, but don’t.

I would like to note for the record that I had not read _Peddling Prosperity_ before advancing a substantially similar thesis at comment 107. I attribute this to my and Krugman’s common membership in the reality-based community, but I could be wrong (or could have picked the idea up from him through reading other of his works, such as his blog).

I believe (and I don’t know if Krugman agrees) that it’s misleading to lump in this kind of misinformed consent with the accurately informed consent that democracies are supposed to run on and conclude in both cases “the people put their stamp of approval on these policies, therefore, there’s no wrongdoing to see here”.

183

Shelley 05.12.11 at 5:50 pm

But “people wanted it” leads to “what the corporate media got people to want,” doesn’t it?

184

djw 05.12.11 at 5:58 pm

Note to self: Never, ever be stupid and lazy when Henry Farrell’s within earshot.

185

b9n10nt 05.12.11 at 5:58 pm

The second thing we want from a cop is too prevent crime. The first thing we want from a cop is to refrain from causing crime.

Thus to recapitulate

a) Elites and the public are two collectives that separately influence policy.

b)Elite influence, with regard to the specifics of how Bush era policies influenced the deficit was greater than public influence.

and

c) Elites who now wish to elect themselves as Wise Men who will inform the public of its irrationality and now try abrogate to themselves greater relative influence over deficit-influencing policy not only were responsible for b), they also failed to inform the public about its role in b).

This is all very frustrating in itself. I think some of the vitriol toward Prof. Winecoff here stems from the fact that he wrongly

1. that Krugman gave no evidence of understanding a) (and hence was a six year old)

and

2. that b) was incorrect.

So this means that Winecoff would believe that c) is of no or wrongly-directed relevance.

And that’s frustrating. Because, again, by any standards of reason and evidence, Prof. W was wrong.

186

b9n10nt 05.12.11 at 6:00 pm

that he wrongly

1. that…

aargghh

187

Barry 05.12.11 at 6:01 pm

JM 05.12.11 at 3:42 pm

” The public knew the tax cuts favored the rich because most of them can count. “
Oh? The public knew what percentage went to whom?

188

Western Dave 05.12.11 at 6:06 pm

Somehow, in all of this concern for modeling how change works and which axis the data belongs in and all that other stuff, y’all stopped talking about the thesis of the Krugman article:

The people who sold us on the policies that got us into this mess are now the people who claim that they are the only ones that can fix it. You shouldn’t have believed them then and if you believe them now, you deserve what you get.

I take this thread as evidence for the reason why nobody reads Political Science outside of political scientists. If you can’t find the thesis of an op-ed piece, you probably can’t write a thesis that anybody else understands. And if you spend all your time talking about whether the Krugman model is right when Krugman may not even have a model – he’s providing a history of an event not a model and there is a difference – then you are so far gone so as to be worthless to the rest of us.

KW’s problem isn’t that he’s carrying water for Repbulicans, or that he can’t handle evidence, or anything like that. It’s that he thinks political science can prove stuff about human behavior that matters if he can just get the math right. Sigh.

189

Bloix 05.12.11 at 6:12 pm

#173- thank you, chris. In a moment of weakness, I began to think that perhaps Winecoff really is just an idiot. But the greater likelihood is that he does not acknowledge the categories “statements that are true” and “statements that are false.” There are only “statements that hinder my masters from achieving their goals” and “statements that may fool some people and disrupt discussion among others.”

190

Lee A. Arnold 05.12.11 at 6:37 pm

Is “political space” a mathematical object?

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LFC 05.12.11 at 7:29 pm

@Western Dave 187 — there are quite a few different sorts of political scientists doing quite a few different kinds of political science. That’s even true in the U.S., where admittedly there is a skew toward the ‘science’ aspect and an obsession with methods. I’m sure you wouldn’t judge all historians by the writing of one historian, so you probably shouldn’t judge all political scientists by the writing of one political scientist.

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Henry 05.12.11 at 7:29 pm

Bloix – I do not know Winecoff’s political predilections, but I suspect from some comments above that he is on the left; certainly, he seems to have no principled objection to specific explanations which invoke nasty behavior by the one or the other interest group. I really think that this is much less about ideological performances for masters of one sort or another, and much more about someone having dug themselves into a hole. And as someone who has done the same thing more than once, I have some real sympathy.

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Henry 05.12.11 at 7:36 pm

Western Dave – for what it is worth, Krugman would disagree with you. See Wallace-Wells’ recent profile

bq. A few years ago, Krugman, having decided that he was going to be writing about politics and so he should know more about it, did a very Krugman thing. He didn’t talk to people who worked in Washington. Instead, he started to read the political-science literature. Krugman had never understood the press coverage of politics, which seemed to emphasize its most irrelevant aspects. Why dwell on a presidential candidate’s psychology when the trends in unemployment would tell you who would win an election? But viewed through the prism of political science, politics began to seem much more familiar to him. There was a mathematics to it—you could assemble data, draw correlations, understand what was essential and what was noise. The underlying shape of politics came sweeping into view: If you arranged members of Congress from left to right based on how they voted on welfare-state issues—Social Security, Medicare, unemployment insurance—it turned out that this left-to-right axis could predict every other vote: On Iraq expenditures, on abortion, whatever. “When you realize the fundamental divide in U.S. politics is just this one-­dimensional thing, and that is how you feel about the welfare state,” Krugman says, “that changes things.”

bq. You could see something else in the data, too. From 1979 to 2004, the income of the richest one percent of Americans grew by 176 percent, that of the richest one fifth of the country by 69 percent, and that of everyone else by less than 25 percent. Working through the numbers, Krugman came to believe that “only a fraction” of the change was compelled by global forces, which had been the standard explanation. The rest, he concluded, was political.

bq. It was Krugman’s Princeton colleague Larry Bartels who made the critical connection, in research Krugman devoured and still cites. Perhaps the most important influence on income inequality, Bartels argued, was something economists had not ­emphasized: whether a Democrat or a Republican was in the White House. Since World War II, Bartels found, wealthy families in the 95th percentile in income had seen identical income growth under both parties. But for families in the 20th percentile, the difference was astonishing: Under Democratic presidents, their income grew at six times the rate it did under Republican ones. There was, for Krugman, a kind of radicalization implied in this.

So your statement that “I take this thread as evidence for the reason why nobody reads Political Science outside of political scientists” should be reworded “I take this thread as evidence for the reason why nobody reads Political Science outside of political scientists and Paul Krugman.” Larry Bartels is no stranger to statistical analysis either (which, I suspect, is one of the reasons that Krugman likes his work).

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chris 05.12.11 at 7:46 pm

Is “political space” a mathematical object?

Metaphorically, yes; if you imagine giving everyone the same political questionnaire, their answers can be written as a vector that corresponds to a point in a vector space, and you can measure distances between different response-sets, look at the shape of the “cloud” of opinions that people actually hold and how “dense” it is (many people having similar sets of opinions), try to define directions within the cloud in terms of some smaller number of dimensions based on questions that people tend to answer in related ways, etc.

But it’s not quite clear what validity this metaphor has if you don’t specify a questionnaire first, or whether conclusions about the shape of the cloud and what kind of low-dimensional basis can explain most of its variation (and what those basis vectors actually mean in terms of political issues) generalize to asking the same set of opinion-holders a different questionnaire, or what any of the constraints on variation actually mean in terms of underlying causes.

The same technique, and the same problem, come up with personality testing, too.

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ovaut 05.12.11 at 8:33 pm

the comment threads at crookedtimber are a standing intellectual consolation

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Western Dave 05.12.11 at 9:06 pm

Properly chastened. Clearly some people do read political science who aren’t political scientists and political science has lots of variations. But the difference is that Krugman, having found an insight doesn’t keep trying to refine the model or make it fit other time periods. He’s used the insight to inform his own work on economic policy. That seems to be the opposite of what is going in this thread. Here we have Krugman writing about something that is at most tangentially about models of how policy is made and mostly about “don’t get fooled again” with a little bit of “have you no shame” on the side.

Our graduate student poster – who says he agrees with the idea of the post – but faults the methodology and Krugman in general, however, goes off the rails and loses sight of the debate. And the rest of us, for the most part have encouraged him or disagreed with him about the model. The original article isn’t about a model. I remember being a young passionate graduate student who thought he could explain the world, I’m sympathetic really, I am. I said genuinely stupid things that I am glad, for the most part, were not preserved on the internet.

But I’m also mindful of Tim Burke’s admonishment about disciplinary knowledge:
1. “This is a problem that we’re best suited to engage within our established institutional practices”; 2. “This is a problem that’s best left to people who’ve learned about through intensive personal and community experience”; 3. “This is a problem that’s best engaged through meshing or connecting heterogenous styles of knowing”.

To my mind, the problem of the people getting us into this mess having far too much say in cleaning it up is a 2 and 3 problem and the question about modeling is a 1 problem and not appropriate at this time.

Go read the whole thing as they say the whole thing

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Western Dave 05.12.11 at 9:10 pm

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ScentOfViolets 05.12.11 at 9:24 pm

Is “political space” a mathematical object?

Metaphorically, yes; if you imagine giving everyone the same political questionnaire, their answers can be written as a vector that corresponds to a point in a vector space, and you can measure distances between different response-sets, look at the shape of the “cloud” of opinions that people actually hold and how “dense” it is (many people having similar sets of opinions), try to define directions within the cloud in terms of some smaller number of dimensions based on questions that people tend to answer in related ways, etc.

Actually, what you’re describing is political questionnaire space. Whether that maps to some theoretical political space or not is another question. There’s been some confusion on that point here in the past :-) I’ve got my math hat on right now because I’m giving two people a makeup stat final – finals conflicts, Oy!

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Kindred Winecoff 05.12.11 at 11:29 pm

Well, the consensus view is that I should just shut up, so I will. I’ve got other things to do anyway. But I enjoyed the conversation, and learned a few things. I’ll concede that some of my real-time reacting doesn’t hold up (the comparison of long-run Part D costs to short-run tax cut costs, eg), although I remain unreconstructed on the main argument that elites deserve all the blame rather than some of it. (A few said this wasn’t the argument; well it was my argument, and it was certainly Krugman’s thrust. To the extent it’s not the argument, or is not an argument worth having, I’ll also concede.) I’ll have one last post at my place that attempts to sum up the main disagreements in this thread for those that don’t want to plow through 200 comments, plus one or two new thoughts related to the recent posts by Nexon and Drezner. It’ll go up whenever Blogger comes back online. If someone’s got a question or disagreement I’d be happy to take it over there.

Thanks for your patience, those of you that were patient. I had a good bit of fun with this exchange.

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piglet 05.12.11 at 11:33 pm

Winecoff: “The public had nothing to do with policy. Only elites did.” (33)
“This whole thing started when Krugman said mass publics didn’t matter at all, and I disagreed. ” (35)

Of course, Krugman never said that. How much more strawman can it get? This is a total embarrassment to whoever poses as “Kindred Winecoff”.

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Andrew 05.13.11 at 1:06 am

Henry: On the $9.4 trillion price tag for Medicare Part D – when one is comparing (as you, not Krugman, want to do) a cost over 75 years, with a cost over a shorter and more immediate period, such as the Iraq war, one uses some appropriate form of discounting for the former, nicht wahr?

The $9.4 trillion is actually the present value of expenditures on Part D through the next 75 years. When you subtract premiums and state contributions, the number reduces to $7.2 trillion, and this is probably an understatement. Why Krugman didn’t include this in his column, and instead chose three short-term, easily fixed things as “the three main” causes of the deficit problem? The answer, being very charitable to Krugman, is that he seeks only to narrowly answer [w]hat happened to the budget surplus the federal government had in 2000?

But though narrowing his claim explains his omission of Part D, it also makes the column faintly ridiculous. No one is claiming that our spending of the budget surplus of 2000 constitutes our deficit problem.

If we broaden his claim to be one about the lost surplus and the deficit generally, then it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that either Krugman changed his mind about Part D, or he contradicted himself by omitting it.

Henry, you raise a fair point on Winecoff mentioning Part D in his original post. I had missed that.

As to the controversy generally, I think the general view in here is a tad harsh on Winecoff. He was wrong, and admits as much, as to his view of Krugman’s general theory of policy (so far as one exists). He was wrong to use the word “concedes” to describe Krugman’s position on Part D.

But I think he has a point on the three things Krugman wishes to lay at the feet of the elite. Krugman states explicitly that the public (“the man in the street”) is not responsible for these three things, which to me implies zero percent responsibility. We can debate about the extent to which the public was misled into supporting those three things, but it’s very hard, imho, to argue a zero percent responsibility.

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Arun 05.13.11 at 1:08 am

Kindred Winecoff wrote:

“As for deregulation, the subprime crisis spread to 23 advanced industrial economies (per the IMF), all of which have different regulatory standards. Some of which (eg Spain) were praised for their tight regulatory structures before the crisis.”

— Funny! My understanding is the US crisis threw the financial markets into a tailspin, and then, just like runs on the banks the crisis spread everywhere, even where the financial situation was relatively healthy. What caused the US crisis in the first place were the high leverage of financial institutions and the opaque nature of their assets – and what permitted this to happen was deregulation.

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kabosht 05.13.11 at 1:15 am

“Well, the consensus view is that I should just shut up, so I will.”

Finally, Winecoff comes up with an example of something genuinely responsive to broad public demand.

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Popeye 05.13.11 at 1:39 am

I see that Winecoff has a Hayek Fund grant and something from some Liberty Foundation thingy on his CV.

What a shock.

As a rule I find liberal academics to be extremely sensible in their areas of expertise. And yet there seem to be a decent number of libertarian academics who are supposedly experts about economics and politics who are actually completely clueless about their supposed specialties. I wonder how this could possibly be.

I’m sure it’s just the will of the people.

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LosGatosCA 05.13.11 at 1:53 am

I think both Krugman and the other guy are right.

At the time of the 2001 taxcuts that were greenlighted by Greenspan and the Iraqi War in 2003, the only majority vote Bush received was from the Supreme Court who definitely wanted both.

So the vote of the elites was 5-4 in favor of everything that followed.

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LosGatosCA 05.13.11 at 2:00 am

Also, Cheney said this:

“RADDATZ: Two-third of Americans say it’s not worth fighting.
CHENEY: So?
RADDATZ So? You don’t care what the American people think?
CHENEY: No. I think you cannot be blown off course by the fluctuations in the public opinion polls.”

Remember the rules – doing what’s popular is expressing the will of the people. Doing what you want even if it’s unpopular is leadership. So, the elites always have their choice of rationales for every action that is in their own interests – works every time.

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Kindred Winecoff 05.13.11 at 2:14 am

Damn, right after I said I wouldn’t say anything, Krugman posted on his blog that my take was a “creative misreading”. So okay, I guess it was. He doesn’t elaborate, but I assume from that that he does think the public has some influence over policy, and/or therefore deserves some share of blame. Those can be the only possible misreadings. Glad that’s cleared up, but that does make his column a pretty strange read. It also makes Henry’s original argument — that Krugman is right and I am wrong — void, since Henry (mostly) agreed with my reading of Krugman that Krugman now says was a misreading. Again, I’m not sure entirely what Krugman’s most recent post means, but the most likely interpretation is that he and I actually agree with each other more-or-less, and the rest of you that were arguing that, actually, elites do deserve all the blame and the public deserves none, now disagree with Krugman as well as me. If that is also a “creative misreading” then I’m sure you’ll all clear it up for me. I’m obviously getting confused.

Arun, That’s certainly a huge part of the crisis, but it doesn’t explain why some countries — Canada, India, China, Brazil, Scandinavia — escaped relatively unscathed. And I thought the common liberal position was that those countries did better because they had better regulation (and they did!). But then that doesn’t explain Spain or a number of other countries. I never denied the US had a screwy regulatory system; I just said the story is more complicated than that.

Popeye, I got a Hayek fund travel grant ($250) because they give free money for conference travel to almost anyone, and traveling to Montreal for a week (where the flagship conference in my discipline was) cost me about a month’s salary. That grant cut it to about 80% of a month’s salary. I used the money to present a paper on how regulatory central banks create moral hazard in financial markets, which market actors then exploit at the expense of the public. I accepted the Liberty Fund invitation ($1500, which I didn’t apply for) because I need summer funding or I’ll have to work at McDonald’s, and because all I have to do for the $ is read some folks like Hume and Ostrom and discuss them for a week. Seemed like a pretty good deal. The rest of my livelihood (~$15,000/year, less about $2k/year for fees) comes from UNC, which is liberal enough that Jesse Helms once called it a “zoo” that should have a wall built around it so folks like me couldn’t escape into the outside world. So if we’re doing math, I owe my liberal masters about 10 times more than my libertarian ones.

Andrew, Thanks for the clarification on NPV of Part D. I should’ve checked the definition behind the numbers. I agree that if Part D is included in then it undermines the rest of Krugman’s argument, and if it isn’t that it makes it somewhat trivial. That’s why I brought it up in the first place. Or at least I did think that, when I thought I knew what Krugman’s argument was. Now that I don’t I’m not sure. Apparently you mis-read him too.

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Kyle Michel Sullivan 05.13.11 at 2:16 am

I’ve read through most of the comments and glanced over the rest, and it’s all very high and mighty…but I failed to notice anyone seriously addressing how it was theft, greed, fraud, political corruption and insider trading that brought about the financial collapse, suborned by members of both parties with the acquiescence of corporate owned media bobble-heads and reporters, be they elites or not. How anyone can say a poorly informed, much misused public can be responsible for this is beyond me. If you mean they didn’t try hard enough to keep informed, please let me know exactly how that is to be achieved in this day and age. At least Paul Krugman acknowledges the fact that much of what happened was flat out criminal…and despite the fact that the population wants something done about it, those who hold the reins of power are refusing to listen to them and instead focusing on nonsense like DOMA and defunding NPR while those who (for example) were elected on promises to protect Medicare have instead decided to destroy it and are now whining because the people who elected them are not happy about that…but who are NOT changing their goals.

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EconomistDuNord 05.13.11 at 2:21 am

“I’ve never heard of Scott Sumner before, but now I have to assume that he was someone who committed repetitional suicide in a very public venue by showing himself to be clueless, mendacious, and repulsively smarmy by turns.”

You nailed Scott precisely!

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Robert Waldmann 05.13.11 at 2:23 am

Krugman sent me here. I haven’t read the whole thread. I think that Winecoff is totally wrong on everything except Medicare plan D.

Someone said electoral politics didn’t do it, since Gore won the election. I won’t relitigate that, but the fact is that the outcome was a coin toss (decided by Anthony Kennedy who could have gone either way also butterfly ballots and … nooo I won’t go there). There was a huge change in policy. If Gore had been inaugurated, there wouldn’t be such a large deficit. Does Winecoff really doubt this ?

On Iraq for months the polls were split about in thirds between invade, don’t invade and invade only with UN security council OK. That means a majority stated opposition to what Bush did. That’s a fact.

It is also definitely a fact that Bush lied in order to convince people to support the invasion — he (and Cheney) made claims based on the very obviously forged Nigerien dossier (it wasn’t that the signature was obviously forged, the name of the person signing and identified as the foreign minister was the wrong name), the opinion of one semi expert on aluminum tubes which was considered ridiculous by every other expert (or every expert he wasn’t expert), the claim by al Libi that Iraq was training al Qaeda terrorists which was extracted with torture. It makes no sense to blame people for a choice they made after they were systematically deceived (Winecoff accuses the ordinary US citizens who supported the invasion and I say they were entrapped).

My guess (no longer fact but guess) is that the invade only with UN approval group supported the invastion when it was clear that we were going to invade. At that point it becomes a matter of supporting the troops and being united in time of war. In any case it is very clear that the elite supported the proposal to invade much more than the general public did.

Notably Winecoff presents no evidence in support of his claims about the invasion of Iraq.

As noted in the bit of thread I read, for decades a solid majority of US adults has said that rich people pay less than their fair share of taxes. Bush told the public that his tax cuts were directed at the middle class and said in private that they were directed at the rich (this in private official discussion reported in “The Price of Loyalty”). There is no doubt that he deceived the public. The contradictory poll results on taxes mean that it makes no sense to claim that the public supported or opposed the tax cuts. They wanted lower and more progressive taxes. They got lower and less progressive taxes.

The bill was pushed through using reconciliation to increase the deficit. This was a novel procedural approach. It just wasn’t the result of following previously normal procedures (in counting votes or in calling a vote in the Senate) nor imposed by public opinion.

Finally we don’t have to go back to 2001 and 2003. We can look at what happened in December. A solid majority of the public supported extending Bush tax cuts on income under $250,000 and letting marginal taxes on income over 250,000 return to Clinton levels. If the proposal with majority support had been enacted by congress, the deficit would be lower. It is very clear that Congress and Obama working together delivered a higher deficit than the public requested. Of course Obama agreed with the majority of his fellow natural born US citizens, but he caved.

It seems to me that Winecoff is not thinking clearly because of Krugman derangement syndrome. But it also seems clear that he doesn’t care about the evidence. His statements about public opinion are not consistent with easily available polling data. He doesn’t show any signs of having felt the need to check.

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Robert Waldmann 05.13.11 at 2:35 am

Sorry can’t resist. I read Winecoff’s comment after posting my own. He did not respond at all to criticisms of his post. His comment suggests that he has forgotten what he wrote.

Kindred Winecoff 05.11.11 at 3:06 am

“Hitting too hard, Henry. I was protesting Krugman’s moralism, and suggesting that even the most simplistic view of politics suggests an interest-based explanation works better. I disagree with little that you wrote (I’d go further on some points), but I have no idea why you’re sticking up for Krugman here.”

He made definite statements about public opinion and not just about Krugman’s moralism. The Krugman derangement syndrome is made clear with his last sentence. It does include the qualifier “here” but the presumption is that there is something incomprehensible about “sticking up for Krugman.” Henry explained his objections very clearly. Winecoff doesn’t consider the arguments made by Henry a possible explanation of why Henry posted those arguments. He states quite clearly that to him the issue is who is criticized and not the content of the criticisms. He doesn’t stand by his claims of fact or contest Henry’s criticisms of his reasoning. It is all about how shocked he is that anyone would side with Krugman against him on any issue no matter what the facts of the matter.

The above is opinion. I think most reasonable people who don’t have firm prior opinions on Krugman, Henry or Winecoff will perceive his comment as I did, but I can’t prove that the qualifier “here” doesn’t really matter. Still less that it was added at the last second, since the sentence without it too clearly revealed Winecoff’s rejection of reasoned debate.

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Kindred Winecoff 05.13.11 at 2:48 am

Randy,

Sorry, but you’re wrong. In Feb. 2001, yes that’s BEFORE 9/11, 52% of Americans supported invading Iraq. At every point from then until the invasion a majority supported an invasion. Scroll to the very bottom of this link:

http://www.gallup.com/poll/1633/Iraq.aspx#4

Other polls suggest, as you say, that greater majorities wanted UN involvement, but you’re characterization that only 1/3 wanted to go in without it just isn’t supported. I agree that they underestimated the costs, but then so did the elites. Solid majorities also opposed cutting off funding for the troops, even though many Democratic politicians and pundits were pushing for that option.

I also posted a link upthread to polls that showed that Americans supported tax cuts in general by a large majority, and supported the 2001 Bush tax cuts (by plurality, 44-32) even though they knew that they were skewed to benefit the rich (80% agreed that they were “unfair”). In other words, they didn’t oppose deficit-creation via tax cuts per se; they preferred them to be distributed more evenly, but would settle for something over nothing.

I sincerely thought that was common knowledge, or I’d have linked to polls like this originally, as Drezner did.

I completely agree that had Gore been declare winner policies would have been very different. Most likely there wouldn’t’ve been tax cuts. Most likely there wouldn’t’ve been an Iraq invasion. Most likely there *would* have been deficits, since Gore would have worked to increase spending in other areas, including some version of Medicare Part D and other extensions of health coverage. Most likely the financial crisis still would have happened, and that too would’ve blown a hole in the budget. Whether those deficits would have been the same or smaller is obviously unknowable, but my guess is that they would have been smaller under a Gore presidency.

And, as I’ve said upthread, I’m not trying to excuse elites. Especially those in the Bush administration. I’m just trying to say that the public aids and abets their bad behavior.

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Charles St. Pierre 05.13.11 at 2:55 am

Our elites justify their outrageous incomes because they run things. But when something goes wrong it’s the public’s fault, or it’s the government’s fault, even though our elites have bought and paid for the government, and it does pretty much what they tell it to, and they force feed the public pretty much what they want it to know.

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chris murphy 05.13.11 at 3:02 am

Repl toKW@43
“Why were some elites—those supporting tax cuts—able to steer policy in 2001, while other elites—those supporting universal health care, say—were not?”
Are you serious? Does it not occur to you that these two sets of elites are not remotely equal in terms of economic and political power?

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Ed Reno 05.13.11 at 3:02 am

After reading some, though not all, of this exchange, I am reminded of the following dialogue in One-Eyed Jacks. Your pick as as to who’s Harvey and who’s Rio.

Bob: Harvey Johnson’s gonna be a famous name in these parts.
Harvey Johnson: How’s that?
Bob: He’s about to get hisself killed by a fella named Rio.
Harvey Johnson: That ain’t him.
Bob: I wouldn’t want to lose me a handful of brains trying to find out.

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Simon 05.13.11 at 3:11 am

Shorter Kindred #205: Krugman says I was wrong, and Henry said I was wrong too, so that cancels out and I was right all along.

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Russell L. Carter 05.13.11 at 3:12 am

Huh. Kindred in the first para of #205 seems shell-shocked. But he shouldn’t have been, if he had known the history of CT. Orin Kerr, for example, evidently knew exactly what he was in for and buckled down for the long haul. And OK’s reputation will always be judged at least in part by the sliminess he exhibited in that thread, but do give the man props for doggedly and consistently pursuing his (futile) case. It wasn’t cheap, from his PoV.

KW hasn’t reached acceptance yet, but I think I can see him contemplating it. I won’t hold this debacle against him; as Henry persistently notes, many of us have been there. The thing to do is to learn from it.

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Bruce Enberg 05.13.11 at 3:36 am

The assertion that “the people” wanted taxes cuts or the Iraq War is not supported by polling (if you don’t lie in the poll question). To simply assume it was so because it happened is completely absurd, it’s like pointing to a string of house fires and saying the people must have wanted it because it happened and not bother looking for the arsonist.

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Pete Shanks 05.13.11 at 4:20 am

“Was the ending of the Vietnam War, by Nixon no less, in any way influenced by the public?” (Winecoff @ 151)
Yup. Nixon campaigned in 1968 claiming to have a “secret plan” to end the war. He was running against the sitting vice-president who (whatever he said, and he said a lot) was identified with the administration that was prosecuting the war. Nixon lied, and got elected. Then he got re-elected because most of the public could not believe what some of us knew, namely that a President was committing crimes in his own electoral interest. When the public understood this, he was forced to resign ahead of conviction in the Senate. In other words, Nixon had his own agenda and manipulated the public.
How does this help your thesis that elites merely follow the public? If anything, it refutes it.

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Frank 05.13.11 at 5:01 am

“On many important policy issues, the public has no preferences whatsoever. On others, it has preferences that largely maps onto partisan identifications rather than actual interests, and that reflect claims made by political elites (e.g. global warming).”

huh? So thousands of generally low-paid scientists, NGO employees and developing world politicians and policy makers are “political elites”! wow.

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Salient 05.13.11 at 5:12 am

Damn, right after I said I wouldn’t say anything

Stop there. Please. It is the fucking iron law of the internet that the likelihood someone is trolling is directly proportional to the likelihood they return to a thread they promised to leave, because… circumstances dictate. Something new came up. Or whatever. This form of trolling involves a great deal of emotional investment, which utterly warps reality, and it’s not intentional trolling in the normal sense of the word ‘intentional.’ But it’s ugly to see. I’ve had to apply this law to myself in situations where I really wanted to try and defend some revised version of faulty statements to the end of the Earth (mistakenly taking a use of the word ‘cunt’ to be contextually indefensible language comes to mind). So should you, here. Russel Carter speaks wisely.

I’m just trying to say that the public aids and abets their bad behavior.

And the interwar German populace (especially taxpaying) did in a sense aid and abet … you know where I’m going with this, right? Then let’s set it aside.

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Anon 05.13.11 at 5:25 am

“Now I may just be a simple hyperchicken…” but isn’t Occam’s Razor not what Wincoff thinks it is?

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kris 05.13.11 at 7:04 am

Perhaps people have previously pointed this out in their comments, but it seems to me that “policy X happened because a majority of people were in favour of it” seems perilously close to a tautology.

Also, opinion polls are hardly unambiguous indicators of public opinion. There is a very nice (and funny) clip from Yes Prime Minister that illustrates some of these problems:

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Martin Bento 05.13.11 at 8:19 am

As near as I can tell, everyone in this thread who addressed the question (which I did not address): “What did Krugman actually say?” (save Andrew, who was more or less sticking up for Kindred), said correctly that Krugman had not made the unequivocal statement Kindred attributed to him, and had indeed made statements explicitly contrary to it. Now Krugman has reiterated that he did not. Kindred’s response: ha, ha, me and Krugman are on the same side, and all you people who criticized me were taking the straw man view I attributed to Krugman. Henry, I find it quite impossible to see this man as arguing honestly.

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bc raymond 05.13.11 at 8:29 am

Wow! Talk about an out of this world shouting match. You know, like on the Moon with no space suits allowed. Y’all can yell all you want, about elites this and elites that, but your not even talking about the same people. VSP elites, whether it’s on TV, in a blog or just at a cocktail party, pontificate that trickle down economics is/was/will always be sound policy– any other smug self satisfied line of illogical reasoning that lacks evidence of viability in the real world can be substituted here– and then when said policy lays a giant dog doodle and the public’s collective nose is rubbed in it, in a way that makes it impossible to ignore the stink of their collective ignorance, the VSP elites say: Don’t look at us, we just did what you wanted, nay demanded, that we do. A pox on their collective houses.

Non VSP elites propose policies that are aimed at increasing the welfare of the commonweal, rather than than some narrow stratum of society that they define as qualifying as “people”. If those policies do not achieve the desired elevation of all people collectively, they are open to sensible modifications and/or adjustments that are aimed at improvement of those policies.

Since neither Winecoff or those chipping away at his self importance– which includes me, such obtuse prevaricating around others’ salient critiques is just sad– are talking about the same subject, there is little reason to believe that Mr. Winecoff can be talked down from his dogged pursuit of VSP status. I hope he is happy with it, for it seems to be a perfect fit. bc

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joe 05.13.11 at 8:46 am

“In Feb. 2001, yes that’s BEFORE 9/11, 52% of Americans supported invading Iraq.”

Voters supported invading and removing Saddam from power. They did not support an 8 year war/nation building eff costing a trillion dollars and 3000 lives. Most answering the question likely assumed invading and removing Saddam was a operation that would last only a few months. Go ahead and find any mention of an Iraq invasion during the 2000 campaign. It was not a campaign issue and Bush’s counter terorrism expert was shocked when Rumsfeld mentioned Saddam after 9/11.

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roger 05.13.11 at 8:54 am

There’s surely another aspect to Kindred Winecoff’s point. After all, voters might be strategic. For instance, a voter could support a tax cut in a recession even if the voter doesn’t support all the details of the tax cut because the voter assumes that there are different sides to the question and that the side that doesn’t support the tax cuts will manage to block the part of the tax cuts the voter doesn’t like. In order to get to the strategies of the voter, one has to use the polls more critically than Winecoff is doing, and in particular, look for those polls that break down the for/against percentages into the voter’s thinking.

There are, after all, a number of strategies by which a voter can achieve one preference at the expense of another. For instance, a Kansas voter – to take the exemplary “what’s a matter with Kansas” state – might well vote for a senator who pledges to balance the budget. Now, that same voter might be vehemently opposed to cutting farm supports, or social security, etc. But at the same time the voter might think that the Senator will support farm supports, social security, etc., and find other items to cut that favor, say, the voters in New York City.
Now, it strikes me as a little bizarre that polls supporting a position – say going to war – are counted in Winecoff’s survey, and those that he dismisses as buyer’s remorse are not. Rather, I would take the buyer’s remorse votes as indicative that there are strategies that are behind votes, and that the voter’s support for, say, war with Iraq is not unconditional, but conditioned on several things. For instance, it might be conditioned on the fact that, according to Wolfowitz at the time, the invasion would cost 10 billion dollars and that it would be paid for by the Iraqis after the overthrow. Or it might be conditioned on the fact that the voters envision the invasion as involving a small force, which would quickly withdraw, rather than Shinseki’s vision of a large force that would have to occupy the country for years. It is of course in the interstices between support for position X and its overall practical meaning that the elites do their work. Unfortunately, the elites have a very selective sense, once a program has gotten off the ground, of what public opinion to pay attention to. In 2006 and 2007, for instance, the voters were against the surge and the elites were for it. In 2009, the voters were for a public option on healthcare. And, to get away from polls to elections, the voters clearly were pursuaded by Gore’s promise to lockbox the budget surplus than to spend it on tax cuts, since Gore received the most votes. The case that the voter can be manipulated so easily as to be a mere tool of the elites, which is the extreme anti-Winecoff position, would seem to make a farce of any democracy one can think of.
But at the same time, Wineccoff’s image of the non-strategic voter seems way off base.

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Popeye 05.13.11 at 9:39 am

Unbelievable. Five years from now Winecoff will be a professor at George mason or a fellow at some libertarian think tank, and he’ll still be arguing that Krugman is a moron. He’ll probably get better at making arguments that can’t be proven to be bunk in one paragraph (this is political science after all) but based on his performance on this thread I don’t see much more cause for hope.

Seriously, a PhD student in international political economy who thinks that the public is responsible for when and where the country goes to war? Has Tyler Cowen called this guy one of our most promising public intellectuals yet?

I saw that Hayek Fund grant from a mile away.

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Popeye 05.13.11 at 9:52 am

Ok I am trolling somewhat with the hayek fund angle but not nearly as much as the guy who misread Krugman and then accepted a correction as proof that he was right all along.

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Andrew 05.13.11 at 11:30 am

Martin @214: As near as I can tell, everyone in this thread who addressed the question (which I did not address): “What did Krugman actually say?” (save Andrew, who was more or less sticking up for Kindred), said correctly that Krugman had not made the unequivocal statement Kindred attributed to him, and had indeed made statements explicitly contrary to it.

Huh? I’ve stated repeatedly that Winecoff was wrong to attribute the view that the public doesn’t matter to Krugman. I’ve said so from the first time I commented in this thread at 121, to the last time, at 199. Hell, I’ve dug up old pieces from Krugman to show he believes in some modified form of a What’s the Matter with Kansas thesis.

But when we look at what Krugman says about the three things he mentions in his column, ISTM Krugman does claim that the public bears no responsibility for those three things.

Zero-percent responsibility seems very hard to argue. Take Iraq. While the Bush administration was wrong about WMD – and wrongly made some dubious claims – the public had access to the views of the IAEA and others, which were well-reported. The public had access to, and were confronted with, arguments against invading. Nonetheless, the public supported war. Did the public drive the war? No. Did the public not oppose, and in substantial part support the war? Yes. Did the public enable the war? Arguable, but to an extent, yes. So the public has SOME responsibility here.

Krugman’s rhetoric likely carried him further than he may have wanted to go. If confronted, I suspect Krugman would roll his eyes, and say “yeah yeah, one could argue it’s not zero-percent, but the point is that it’s really the elites who bear most of the blame etc.” And that would be fine, but it’s not what the column says.

Winecoff @205: Thanks for the clarification on NPV of Part D. I should’ve checked the definition behind the numbers. I agree that if Part D is included in then it undermines the rest of Krugman’s argument, and if it isn’t that it makes it somewhat trivial. That’s why I brought it up in the first place. Or at least I did think that, when I thought I knew what Krugman’s argument was. Now that I don’t I’m not sure. Apparently you mis-read him too.

Well, the Trustees Report can be a pain (although I think the Report is very well written).

Yeah, I may not have given the “2000 budget surplus” limitation enough weight in my earlier comments, but otherwise I think I’ve read him accurately.

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Dogsbody 05.13.11 at 11:50 am

And, as I’ve said upthread, I’m not trying to excuse elites. Especially those in the Bush administration. I’m just trying to say that the public aids and abets their bad behavior.

I just bit my tongue so hard, fthaktakthak… Pardon me while I spit blood

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LizardBreath 05.13.11 at 12:11 pm

Zero-percent responsibility seems very hard to argue.

While Krugman’s clearly (and in my view correctly) placing primary responsibility in the hands of elites, you seem here to be importing an absolute claim not actually present in what he wrote (“zero percent”), and then arguing that while a softer version of the claim (which to me looks like what Krugman actually said) might be true, the absolute, totalizing version is false.

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rickstersherpa 05.13.11 at 12:23 pm

In reading this wonderful stream, one of the points I kept stumbling over is KW’s apparent naivete about how elites form “public opinion” in societies dominated by mas media. I do agree with Henry’s point that Kthug gets on the nerves of KW and Drezner and they read him to be a stupid as possible so that they assert why he should not be taken seriously (and Obama White House certainly appears to care more about David Brooks opinion than they do about Kthug’s).

I do think that KW and Drezner also engage in misrembering and meme spreading about the policy disputes and decisions of the 1st Bush Presidency. The tax cuts and the Iraq war were not the result of intense popular movements. The prospect of war (and conducting a war while cutting taxes) were not the dominate issues in the 2000 election. I recall (and I may misrember as well, but here I think the evidence supports me) that the issues seem to be that “Al Gore was a stuff shirt liar” and voting against him would show one’s disapproval of President Clinton’s bedroom activities while George W. was the kind of guy you could have a beer with and who would “bring dignity back to the White House.” And so called public opinion was being informed by the kind of nonsense that Bob Somerby describes in this post on the Daily Howler being put out by two leading journalists of the day on a leading news show “Meet the Press” http://www.dailyhowler.com/dh051211.shtml (Somerby, who may not be a PhD political scientiest, but just a comic and ex-Baltimore public school teacher, is rather astute observer about the way the large media companies work to form “public opinion” and keep us dumb. And lack of accountability for elites is not just a Conservative phenomena.)

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Henri Vieuxtemps 05.13.11 at 12:28 pm

Oh, well. As Dubya said, back in 2001: you can fool some of the people all the time, and those are the ones you want to concentrate on.

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Yougotit 05.13.11 at 1:01 pm

Dear bloix
You are the man
Peace out!

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wally 05.13.11 at 1:13 pm

“Sorry, but you’re wrong. In Feb. 2001, yes that’s BEFORE 9/11, 52% of Americans supported invading Iraq.”

You seem, in general, to be not very bright about how public opinion is formed – and purchased – in the US today. And also about how election campaigns are conducted and won.
In fact, you’ve really put your foot in it. You’ve been clearly wrong and have been called out by so many posters, but are unable to personally admit it.

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chris 05.13.11 at 1:18 pm

As to the controversy generally, I think the general view in here is a tad harsh on Winecoff.

He started off pummeling a strawman (with the lovely personal insult memorialized in the thread title). When called on it, he denied it was a strawman and claims that evidence of Krugman taking a more nuanced view was a retreat by Krugman. When Krugman finally notices this thread and states that no, he never meant what Winecoff said he meant, Winecoff interprets it as… vindication?

And that’s on top of the little trick of comparing the 10-year cost of one program to the 75-year cost of another, without mentioning that he was doing so. Even if that was a blunder it doesn’t speak well of him; of course if it was subterfuge, that’s even worse.

I think it would be difficult to be too harsh on someone who argues like that, short of threats of violence (of which I am happy to be able to say there are none in this thread). Scorn, which there has been some of, is certainly well merited at this point.

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alph 05.13.11 at 1:43 pm

Popeye makes the right point about incentives:

Why would Winecoff alter a particle of what he is doing, when it is guaranteed to work so well for him?

Sure–everyone here reads this and sees a spineless weasel who has demonstrated an inadequate grasp on policy, a total lack of honesty, and a willingness to distort, shuffle, and evade.

But his future masters in the Republican Party are looking on with growing pleasure and regard. They are starting to reserve him a seat on the Koch Bros Gravy Train, where he can ride effortlessly from one sinecure to another in Wingnut Welfare CandyLand.

Somewhere on the web right now, right-wingers are heh-indeeding over Winecoff’s “brilliant takedown” of Krugman and his “total pwning” of that lame CT crowd. Orin Kerr is sending him emails on the side with tips to hone his trolling techniques, full of encouragement and congratulations.

And now that Kthug himself has acknowledged him, Winecoff is a made man. He’ll be getting a call from one of Karl Rove’s intermediaries at the beginning of next week, asking if he needs an internship at a Libertarian “think tank”. Grover Norquist may make him a competitive offer soon.

Sure, Winecoff has publicly failed every test of intellect, morality, and honesty on this thread. But it’s playing like gang-busters to the crowd he wants to join!

Sorry, CT suckers–in a few years, he’s going to be earning ten times what you are, and writing policy or propaganda in a K Street lobbying shop. And he’ll look back fondly on this thread–the thread where he was shameless, sure, but the thread that made him famous, too.

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Sufferin' Succotash 05.13.11 at 1:50 pm

There’s success and there’s success. If you can trigger a 200+ comment thread on a red herring-like topic such as “do elites matter in politics” (which is a bit like arguing whether or not gravity exists) I’d call that a success. You’ve got the opposition jumping through hoops arguing over what’s basically a diversionary issue. Mission Accomplished.

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Bloix 05.13.11 at 1:56 pm

#199 and #205 – it’s completely misleading to use a 75-year present value figure for Medicare Part D in discussions of the deficit while using current figures for the effects of the Bush tax cuts, unfunded wars, the effect of the recession, and all other contributors to the deficit. It’s like saying that I will never be able to pay my mortgage because its present value exceeds my annual income. The standard, accepted way of calculating future deficits is year-by-year projection, not present value estimation.

You could do a present value calculation, I suppose, if you were willing to make present value estimates for all aspects of the federal budget – for the next 75 years of income and other tax revenues, wars, “security,” and all other revenues and expenditures. That of course would be a useless exercise: do you think you can predict how much the US will spend on war in 2060? But if you use present value for Part D only, you are adding up a whole bunch of apples and one big orange. The deficit is never calculated on a present value basis precisely because most future revenues and expenditure can’t be predicted with any certainty.

So Winecoff’s use of the “$10 trillion” figure, which he now admits is a $7 trillion figure, is bullshit. It’s not so much that he knows he’s lying, it’s that he doesn’t care whether he’s lying or not. He’s found a stick to beat Krugman with and he’s going to use it.

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dbk 05.13.11 at 2:34 pm

This has been a fascinating thread, manyy thanks to all the commenters.

The big picture conclusion seems to be that, per both Krugman and Winecoff, the “public” are neither entirely to blame nor entirely blame-free for the current status quo; where one falls along the spectrum of blame-assignation is not unconnected with one’s own alignment(s) along the various spectra (political affiliation, economic status, “elite” vs. “non-elite”) inevitably played out in public policy debates.

Those inclined to believe the “public” bear a proportionately greater share of the blame would, I imagine, claim that the “public” are responsible for (a) becoming well-informed about current subjects of public interest; (b) exercising their vote in a similarly well-informed fashion re: same; c) withdrawing/changing their vote when elected representatives fail to implement what the “public” interpret as being in their best interest.

Those inclined to believe the “elites” bear a greater share of the blame would probably agree with all the above, but with the caveat that the public have the right to a fair and balanced, dispassionate public debate of the issues. Is this true in public debate today? Do members of the “public” indeed have good access (on the evening news, on which millions of people still rely) to a fair and balanced presentation of issues of moment? I think Krugman would argue there is a level of deliberate misrepresentation of such issues, and that the elite (who control inter alia the mass media) are responsible for this.

Whose responsibility is it to de-code/re-frame/re-state biased presentations of issues of public interest?

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Gepap 05.13.11 at 2:35 pm

I have been working in policy making (at the US State level) for the last few years, and Krugman’s point is completely correct when it comes to how decisions get made.

Public opinion matters, but only if it is overwhelming and obvious. Most voters (who in the US represent only a subset of all citizens) have a few things they really care about and have weakly held opinions about everything else, assuming they even know anything about an issue, which one can assume is not true most of the time, given the amount of time it would take the average citizen with a day job to become well-versed in what is going on at the seat of power.

Elected officials understand this better than anyone else because in the process of getting elected they have to interact with voters, and are thus able to see just how limited their knowledge and strongly held interests are. Legislators also understand that while a subset of voters is generally driven by a single or a small number of issues, most voters either vote straight party line (because they use party identification as a proxy of their general policy positions since they are unwilling to spend the time to educate themselves) or vote based on general opinion of a candidates worth (height, looks, church, last name being familiar, so forth)

The way this reality works in the policy making process is that those voters with strongly held opinons on something join what we call “special interests” – any and every group that lobbies can be labelled this. This includes not only business and labor interests, but any advocacy organization (Professional groups, single-issue advocacy groups). These special interests are the groups that actually interact with policy makers, trying to use their influence, which is the ability to mobilize voters in two ways: Mobilize their direct base of support or provide money to fund campaigns to mold the opinions the the mass of voters who generally have no interest or strong opinion on an issue. If a policy maker has strong internal opinions on something, they will likely ignore special interest pressure, but most policy makers are no different from your average voter, having only a few strongly held positions and weakly held or non-existing positions on most matters. On issue for which a policy maker has no strongly held opinions, they take into account the relative strength of the special interest competing on an issue and their power to actually influence voters in their own districts, and will chose sides based on who can promise more. In terms of effective support, the larger the voter base, the more that promises of money are more effective than mobilizing the base supporters of an interest group.

Most of the policies mentioned by Krugman were positions in which most of the public had weakly held positions, positions open to reversal if the individual was presented with contradictory evidence. For most national issues, this is generally the default reality. IN the case of the invasion of Iraq, the opposition was highly motivated (as can be seen from the mass protests held) but the majority held weak positions of support. Now, in this situation, had the campaign against the war had more time, their activism would have likely erroded the generally weak support for war, so the elites in power, who had strongly held personal positions in support of the war stepped up the speed in which they exectued the road to war. Weak public support was a cushion that policy makers could use to justify their pre-determined policy position. On the tax cuts, there is a default support from the majority for tax cuts, but there is also a default majority support for public goods (like Medicare expansion). The fact that the government was claiming a surplus allowed supporters of the Bush tax cuts (as opposed to tax cuts structured in a less revenue destroying way) to make the case that taxes could be cut without harming the ability to provide public goods. When Republicans moved forth with Medicare part D, they claimed ideologically that their previous tax policies would push revenues higher and that the program’s design (incorporating private competition) wouold make it cost effective, and thus they knew they could go back home and sell it to the masses of voters with weak positions. In all three cases though, elites made the decision, then went to the voters knowing they would likely not pay an electoral price for them. They were not motivated by from the bottom campaigns.

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Fred Brack 05.13.11 at 2:57 pm

* Henry said: “As I see it, you [Winecoff] wrote a polemical blogpost that was based around an uncharitable and erroneous interpretation of someone [Krugman] whom you obviously don’t like.” In so saying, it appears to this vastly entertained audience member, Henry nailed it.

* In his blogpost, Mr. Winecoff accuses Professor Krugman of asserting “[S]ome moral lesson is needed. If something bad happens, it must be because bad people are doing it.” Did Professor Krugman say this? Answer: No. He didn’t say “bad people,” he said, “bad judgment.” Were Mr. Winecoff’s eyes clouded by animus?

* Didn’t Professor Krugman simply ask for self-accountability and better policies? Didn’t he say, “elites are ducking some much-needed reflection on their own catastrophic mistakes.” Isn’t it clear when he says if blame for bad judgment isn’t meted out “. . . our policy elites [will] do even more damage . . .” that he’s concerned about Republican/libertarian/media elites singing the same old anti-government, anti-tax, anti-arithmetic (tax cuts don’t affect budget deficits), anti-regulation song?

* Back in the late ’80s, President George H.W. Bush and elite opinion made a huge deal about the War on Drugs. Before that, polls showed that illegal drugs was way, way down the list of public concerns. But after the president and elites went to work, polls showed an enormous spike in concern about drugs, before later subsiding to pre-hullabaloo levels.

* Thought experiment: If George H.W. Bush had been elected in 2000 for his second term and brought back Brent Scowcroft et al. to shape public opinion, as leaders are supposed to do, would the U.S. have invaded Iraq?

* Thought experiment: If George W. Bush had taken office in 2000 celebrating the fiscal responsibility the previous president and Congresses had shown in creating a long-term budget surplus that would (a) serve as a rainy-day fund for future recessions; (b) pay for a Medicare drug plan; (c) make up for the shortfall in Social Security for the next 75 years that had been caused by American women suddenly deciding to have an average of only two children instead of three; and (d) help pay for repairing our badly frayed infrastructure — if President Bush had taken that approach instead of saying that government was picking taxpayers’ pockets to pay for “its” debt, would he have shaped public opinion?

* Aren’t blogs’ comment capabilities the greatest thing since the printing press?

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Michael 05.13.11 at 3:28 pm

Winecoff, in quotes:

“Randy,

Sorry, but you’re wrong. In Feb. 2001, yes that’s BEFORE 9/11, 52% of Americans supported invading Iraq. At every point from then until the invasion a majority supported an invasion. Scroll to the very bottom of this link:

http://www.gallup.com/poll/1633/Iraq.aspx#4

Other polls suggest, as you say, that greater majorities wanted UN involvement, but you’re characterization that only 1/3 wanted to go in without it just isn’t supported. I agree that they underestimated the costs, but then so did the elites. Solid majorities also opposed cutting off funding for the troops, even though many Democratic politicians and pundits were pushing for that option.”

There are lies, damn lies, statistics, and those who use statistics to damnably lie. Is there anyone with half a brain out there who cannot fathom a public opinion poll BEFORE 9/11 and AFTER 9/11 concerning an invasion of Iraq as a way to deal with Sadaam Hussein? Talk about disingenuous. Furthermore, did anyone notice the wording used in that pre-9/11 opinion poll “…Would you favor or oppose sending American troops back to the Persian Gulf in order to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq?” (highlight is my own)

The wording of the Gallup Poll counts. You cannot compare a public reacting to two seperate conditions (Gulf War, 9/11) of information and regard them as equal. And while the November 2001 poll does include the word “back” in the wording, it would be a stretch to assume that the opinion of readers was still being primarily influenced by the events of the Gulf War and not 9/11. You especially cannot consider it equal when you take into account this snippet from Bush’s speech to the Joint Session of Congress on September 20th, two months before the poll (quote is taken from Wikipedia article on Bush Doctrine, link below):

“We will pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism. Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.”

That is an Elite (according to Krugman) making a top-down implication/association that was widely disseminated through the media. This quote, also from Wikipedia entry “Bush Doctrine,” is even more revealing:

“In a series of speeches in late 2001 and 2002, Bush expanded on his view of American foreign policy and global intervention, declaring … that the United States had the right to act unilaterally in its own security interests, without the approval of international bodies such as the United Nations…This represented a departure from the Cold War policies of deterrence and containment under the Truman Doctrine and post–Cold War philosophies such as the Powell Doctrine and the Clinton Doctrine.”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bush_Doctrine

Does anyone honestly think the ‘public’ of Feb. 2001 had the exact same idea of what it meant to invade Iraq in Nov. 2001 and beyond? And if they didn’t, where did that ‘change’ come from? Did it come FROM them or did it come TO them?

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Winslow R. 05.13.11 at 3:30 pm

The U.S. Electorate is 100% responsible for all policies of the U.S. Government.

As part of that electorate, the buck stops here. Perhaps things will start to change when we fully acknowledge the responsibility.

It might alienate Krugman’s readership to hear they are, as part of that electorate, to blame for the policies he rails against. Blaming various elites for our country’s problems allows a sense of loss of control to limit the political response.

We have a choice to wait 2 to 4 years for the next election cycle to hopefully remove the offending elites………

Or we can protest the actions of our government now.

Krugman, only handing partial blame to the electorate, makes the easy choice to wait. Waiting years isn’t how our system was designed to work.

Polls have replaced protest. Pollsters have replaced protestors.

The U.S. Electorate is 100% responsible.

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RedCharlie 05.13.11 at 3:47 pm

C’mon folks, Dubya won the vote fair and square. 5 to 4.
Which is as it should be since his daddy had paid for it.

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Bruce 05.13.11 at 3:50 pm

I love it!

You liberals are so close-minded, you even attack a fellow liberal as using every insult in the book when they dare to partially disagree with one of your high priests.

Dr. K is right about many things, but he still interprets everything through is liberal glasses, and he still presents things every bit as askew as the other side.

Funny.

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kabosht 05.13.11 at 4:00 pm

“I assume from that that he does think the public has some influence over policy, and/or therefore deserves some share of blame. Those can be the only possible misreadings. Glad that’s cleared up, but that does make his column a pretty strange read. It also makes Henry’s original argument—that Krugman is right and I am wrong—void, since Henry (mostly) agreed with my reading of Krugman that Krugman now says was a misreading. Again, I’m not sure entirely what Krugman’s most recent post means, but the most likely interpretation is that he and I actually agree with each other more-or-less, and the rest of you that were arguing that, actually, elites do deserve all the blame and the public deserves none, now disagree with Krugman as well as me. If that is also a ‘creative misreading’ then I’m sure you’ll all clear it up for me. I’m obviously getting confused.”

Whether or not you’re confused (or whether “getting” is the appropriate gerund), I leave to others to decide. But you sound more and more like a fairly bright, but very clueless, and completely narcissistic high school student at every turn. (And sadly, at least at the school I went to, this type of perpetual adolescent, empty argument grad student was far too common). I’m sure you enjoy the attention, and on some level you may actually be able to convince yourself of the validity of your ongoing torture of logic (or think that the convolutions that you mistake for cleverness are their own reward), but just fyi, to anyone not called “kindred winecoff,” your sophistry is not even marginally cute, much less convincing. And on this point, Krugman and I disagree: nothing you’ve posted thus far has been creative.

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El Cid 05.13.11 at 4:01 pm

It needn’t be true for every occasion for bad policy actually to be made by bad people.

This can involve (from a pretty common sense view) decisions directly made to benefit the powerful, elite, and wealthy (particularly when the decisionmaker shares those interests) while hurting a bunch of weaker and more vulnerable people.

And it can be based on some religious or political ideology, such as Christian fundamentalism.

It can also be making such elite-favoring policies while not really giving a damn what the consequences may be. I.e., throwing derivatives regulations to the wind in a last-minute insertion to a federal budget which Bill Clinton couldn’t really postpone much longer, and after the Supes gave Bush Jr. the Preznitzy.

Yes, there’s no requirement whatsoever to avoid the notion that bad, ill-intentioned, and callously negligent people make policy.

Nor that really harmful results of policies must be “unintended consequences”.

Conservatives don’t have any problem saying any of this of any liberal and/or Democratic policy.

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Uncle Kvetch 05.13.11 at 4:48 pm

And now that Kthug himself has acknowledged him, Winecoff is a made man. He’ll be getting a call from one of Karl Rove’s intermediaries at the beginning of next week, asking if he needs an internship at a Libertarian “think tank”. Grover Norquist may make him a competitive offer soon.

I dunno…I’m seeing him as more of an “even-the-liberal.” It looks to me like his argument with Krugman isn’t about substance, but form: Krugman is shrill. He moralizes. He takes all this stuff much too seriously. Even when he’s right, he’s right in the wrong way.

Just remember Megan’s Law: just because the war is wrong doesn’t mean that people who protest against it don’t deserve to be whacked upside the head with 2x4s. Who cares if they’re right? They’re annoying.

Grover Norquist? Nah. I’m thinking Slate, the New Republic, or what’s left of the Atlantic.

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grape_crush 05.13.11 at 6:42 pm

I remain unreconstructed on the main argument that elites deserve all the blame rather than some of it.

It wasn’t the general population that originated the idea of invading Iraq as a way to combat terrorism, was it? It was presented as a solution to a problem by foreign policy hawks.

It wasn’t the general population that originated the ideas of keeping interests rates low in the face of irresponsible borrowing or rating junk bonds as prime or not regulating exotic financial products as a way to promote home ownership, was it?

And so on.

Part of the joy and pain of being “unsophisticated six year olds” is that while we can express our needs and desires, it’s a relatively small coterie that can garner the attention needed to roll out proposals as to how those needs and desires are met…and, in some cases, those small groups of people attempt to limit the discussion to an ideologically-acceptable subset of what all the possible options are. That’s why we get debt policy discussion ignoring the option of increasing revenues through higher taxation. Or Social Security funding policy debate that ignores raising or eliminating the payroll cap.

And so on. I think that’s basically what Henry is saying up above, just without as much sophistication. I could be wrong.

You can make the argument that once these ideas are rolled out and enter the consciousness of mainstream society that it’s the non-elites’ fault for being easily led (and for not knowing better, within reason), but that happens post-roll out.

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grape_crush 05.13.11 at 6:42 pm

…just without as much sophistication.

On my part, that is.

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ScentOfViolets 05.13.11 at 6:42 pm

Just remember Megan’s Law: just because the war is wrong doesn’t mean that people who protest against it don’t deserve to be whacked upside the head with 2×4s. Who cares if they’re right? They’re annoying.

That was my thought upthread; that Winecoff’s output resembled that of a certain paid writer at The Atlantic. Who btw is looking rather tired these days, now that so many have abandoned her in disgust. Evidently people whose main schtick is “I post things that annoy liberals” have a definite sell-by date if they don’t have some other in with the corporation.

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Hyperbole Diffuser 05.13.11 at 6:46 pm

Just awesome. Best troll thread I’ve seen in months at least.

Smart folks have a tendency to overexplain. If you’re like me & directed here by Krugman, consider this.

1. If your interest is the public vs. elite responsibility in policy argument, ‘candle’ @ 170 is a good summary or the root disagreement (Krugman vs. Winecoff). Oxygen = public influence; nitrogen = elite influence; air composition = public policy direction.

2. Otherwise consider that Winecoff’s premise is essentially that Krugman wrongly absolves the public of responsibility regarding negative policy outcomes.

3. The rest of the comments consist of whether that’s what Krugman said, laughing at Winecoff’s conclusions and general noise.

Moreover, consider that Krugman noticed this thread enough to point you to it, but did little beyond chuckling, pointing and moving on.

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gman 05.13.11 at 7:00 pm

Northwoods University might be a fit. Financed by the Amway people in an attempt to one-up George Mason and promote the always discredited “neo-austrian” economics…

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LFC 05.13.11 at 7:31 pm

Shorter Hyperbole Diffuser: Since Krugman simply chuckled (“no need for me to weigh in,” to quote his brief post) and since Krugman’s judgments on everything are unerring and infallible, it must follow that this entire thread is worthless and that most of the comments consist of “general noise.” Right, glad we’ve cleared that up.

(Btw, Jerry Hough’s comment on Krugman’s post is worth reading. Not that I necessarily agree with all or most of it. I didn’t read the rest of the thread there.)

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Adam Eran 05.13.11 at 7:42 pm

Although the recent sub-prime meltdown is certainly a case in point, the policy manipulations that had an impact on housing began in the Reagan years. The 1986 tax law retroactively invalidated real estate limited partnership claiming depreciation on their properties. This sounds obscure (and it is), but its effects were to bankrupt every single limited partnership that owned apartments, among other things. Naturally this did not help with the S&L bailout either since those properties were a) no longer viable, and b) were now in the hands of failing institutions.

Oh yes, and the subtle subsidy for rental housing that such depreciation embodied, along with some other things (notably closing some large federally-funded institutions for psychiatric patients), also insured that there would be a growing number of homeless on the streets. Ask your local homeless shelter when they began their business. Odds are it’s shortly post-1986.

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Adam Eran 05.13.11 at 8:03 pm

“Some fraud on the margins [in making loans during the housing bubble], yah, but that’s a constant; not nearly enough to explain the enormous bubble and ensuing crash. “… says one poster of the recent housing bubble.

On the other hand, if 80% of the sub-prime loans Countrywide was securitizing were fraudulent, and they were, is that really your idea of “at the margins”?

And if the bubble was driven by fraud, not popular demand for housing (where tax breaks for interest write-off and trade up profits plus leverage and rising prices made investment returns monumental…so even pure public demand was manipulated by policy)… then it wasn’t really “popular demand” that led to the bubble. It was banksters.

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MOGreenie 05.13.11 at 8:16 pm

I think there is some confusion about public preferences and public understanding of the facts. All things equal, everyone prefers lower taxes. In 1981, Reagan and Stockman told the public that they could have lower taxes AND a balanced budget. This turned out to be factually incorrect.

In the complex game of public policy formation, one important role played by elites is to present coherent policy options. e.g. “Lower taxes implies the following cutbacks in services,” or “the Ryan budget will result in the end of Medicare as we know it.” In econo-speak, the elites present the public with the budget constraint: this many guns implies that much butter.

The problem in recent years is that there are no credible elites that have the trust of the American public. We have no more Walter Cronkites. Instead, I have NPR and you have FOX. And so I like APPA and you hate Obamacare, not necessarily because we have different preferences across the policy space, but because we have different beliefs about what the policy means.

Within this context, the role of elites becomes amplified. If elites come to consensus about a policy position (to take a recent Krugman hobbyhorse: “inflation fears must be addressed, even at the cost of high unemployment”), it is difficult for the general public to take a contrarian view. The issues are simply too complex. I didn’t read the health care legislation — I read Ezra Klein’s analysis. And I’ll bet most Republicans didn’t read the Ryan budget — they read the Heritage Foundation analysis.

And this is where the left starts howling at the moon. On issue after issue, for the past two decades we have seen increasingly ideological nonsense coming from so-called analysts on the right. Global warming isn’t real? Guantanamo helps the “war on terror”? Cutting taxes increases revenues?

Finally, I think where Krugman’s concern really lies is that too much of the “Washington Consensus” seems to be to simply split the policy positions of the left (based on actual numbers and real theories) and the policy positions of the right (based on delusional fantasies and wishful thinking).

When there exists an expert consensus that man-made global warming is real, David Brooks should not be able to hide behind the fact that 54% of Americans don’t believe in global warming. That’s a sign of the ignorance of the American public, not a measure of the accuracy of global warming science.

Weincoff is only half right to say that public policy reflects voters’ preferences. Policy reflects voters’ preferences and beliefs, and the elites have misinformed (deliberately or otherwise) the beliefs of the American public to such a degree that the elites should be held much more responsible for the current mess than the general public.

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Salient 05.13.11 at 8:50 pm

You liberals are so close-minded

That’s actually kind of a cute malapropism, I like it.

you even attack a fellow liberal as using every insult in the book

No, trust me, we really do have a secret tome of insults, and we didn’t even manage to get past Page 7 here.

…oh wait, I misread, we’re attacking a fellow liberal (Winecoff) as using every insult in the book, i.e. for being obtuse. True.

when they dare to partially disagree…

Nah, many of us were mostly thinking “dude you don’t actually disagree with him on this subpoint, ‘least as far as we can tell, so calling him a six-year-old for saying it is kind of a takes-one-to-know-one self-immolation.”

Also it’s not very daring to cross words with Krugman, you should know by now that it’s disagreeing with John Maynard Keynes or Saul Alinsky that gives us the vapors.

…with one of your high priests.

Ah blast it, did I miss that fatwa? You’d think they’d start cc’ing me on the memoes.

The U.S. Electorate is 100% responsible for all policies of the U.S. Government.

The U.S. Electorate consists of 538 people.

Also, 2000 called to ask, “…all nine of them? Or just the five who voted Bush?” …apparently they called RedCharlie first

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Hyperbole Diffuser 05.13.11 at 9:19 pm

LFC, I find Krugman informative, sometimes amusing and often infuriating. I certainly don’t consider him infallable. I’m more poking fun at those rehashing everything from Citizens United back to the Reagan years based on Winecoff’s idea that assigning blame to policy elites for failed policy is inapprorpiate so long as said policies were popular in the polls (no leadership responsibility here, apparently). Not that off-topic is something new in threads, but I don’t tend to see this level of academia tied up in it.

Actually what I find most amusing is Krugman’s crack on the “something for nothing” lecturing when he has used it himself to make a point, also citing polls:

…people want spending cut, but are opposed to cuts in anything except foreign aid:

And they want state governments to balance their budgets without cutting spending or raising taxes:

The conclusion is inescapable: Republicans have a mandate to repeal the laws of arithmetic.

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ckc (not kc) 05.13.11 at 11:12 pm

Not that off-topic is something new in threads, but I don’t tend to see this level of academia tied up in it.

…well, it’s good to know your level, isn’t it?

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Andrew 05.14.11 at 2:21 am

Bloix @240: it’s completely misleading to use a 75-year present value figure for Medicare Part D in discussions of the deficit while using current figures for the effects of the Bush tax cuts, unfunded wars, the effect of the recession, and all other contributors to the deficit. It’s like saying that I will never be able to pay my mortgage because its present value exceeds my annual income. The standard, accepted way of calculating future deficits is year-by-year projection, not present value estimation.

It’s not misleading.

First, I was responding to Henry’s post in which he asked for what the discounted value of spending over 75 years would be. AFAIK, that’s the present value.

Second, the comparison in Henry’s post was to the cost of the Iraq War. It’s entirely appropriate, if we want to try to compare the cost of stream of payments in the future (Medicare) to a lump-sum payment now (usually how the cost of the Iraq War is presented), to use present value.

You could do a present value calculation, I suppose, if you were willing to make present value estimates for all aspects of the federal budget – for the next 75 years of income and other tax revenues, wars, “security,” and all other revenues and expenditures.

I understand your point. My intention wasn’t to compare the present value of Medicare payments to a single year of defense spending, or a single year’s lost revenues due to lower taxes.

So Winecoff’s use of the “$10 trillion” figure, which he now admits is a $7 trillion figure, is bullshit. It’s not so much that he knows he’s lying, it’s that he doesn’t care whether he’s lying or not. He’s found a stick to beat Krugman with and he’s going to use it.

Well no. First, both Krugman and Winecoff used the 9.4 trillion figure. Second, as Krugman has ASLO said, by the way, the present value of Part D expenditures is a pretty serious problem, and I’m sure you can imagine way.

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Lee A. Arnold 05.14.11 at 2:26 am

Hyperbole Diffuser, the question isn’t about how smart you are. It is about how and why other smart people can believe or say erroneous things. So in order to understand it, one may have to go back to the Reagan years to understand how they see that, too. Because sometimes there is an economics misunderstanding, and sometimes there is a psychology assumption, and sometimes there is a personal emotional disposition, and sometimes you read paid trolls from blog-comment-management departments down at your local lobby. So don’t get me angry.

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Down and Out of Sài Gòn 05.14.11 at 8:34 am

Yet another thread that I come in at the end. But I just can’t let this sentence go past without comment:

The elites that decide policy are the elites that are elected. The elites that are elected are the ones that get the most votes under the electoral rules in a jurisdiction, which involves satisfying mass publics and important interest groups.

Well, I’ll be damned: a political science PhD that has never heard of Yes, Minister.

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Tim Wilkinson 05.14.11 at 9:08 am

It’s not really about blame or personal responsibility, it’s about power. However blame is assigned, the fact is that ‘elites’ have great power over the public, and not vice versa.

But in any case, blame and responsibility are not fixed quantities – there’s always plenty to go round. (Novus actus interveniens is a doctrine of liability for fixed damages, which is different.) If you want to blame the US public for being warlike idiots you can, much good may it do you.

I’m more interested in who decided in Feb 2001 to start polling on nipping back into Iraq to tidy up unfinished business and be back for breakfast.

The questions:

Now thinking back to the Persian Gulf War in 1990 and 1991,

All in all, do you think the situation in the Persian Gulf region was worth going to war over or not?

Would you favor or oppose sending American troops back to the Persian Gulf in order to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq?

The subhead to the press release:

Small majority favor new war to remove Saddam Hussein from power

The reason or pretext given is an anniversary; could be, could be not. Not that it’s string evidence ofr anything much, but the anniversary of Victory, certainly if mentioned, would be a predictably confounding factor for such opinions, I’d have thought.

(For the avoidance of doubt, this tiny bit of idle suspicion about a marginal event is not meant to lay down a back-story to support some 9-11 foreknowledge thesis. Though reflex discounting of any degree of foreknowledge in any degree of detail seems pretty agnotological to me, and must surely be infuenced by the received wisdom that it’s ‘Trutherism’ and thus tantamount to talk of holograms or a ‘smoke-filled auditorium’ fantasy.)

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Henry 05.15.11 at 12:25 am

With respect to #207, and the later posts at IPE@UNC, I think that all I can do is to reiterate and strengthen my suggestion at the end of #177 about considering how certain twists and turns in the argument might have been interpreted had they come from Krugman rather than Winecoff. And I’ll leave it at that.

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Bloix 05.15.11 at 2:36 am

#263 -
It’s not misleading to attempt to calculate a present value figure for Medicare Part D (although a 75-year calculation, in which you pretend to know what prescription drugs are going to cost 75 years from now, is kind of a ridiculous exercise). But it’s completely misleading to pretend that that present value figure is part of the current deficit.

“It’s entirely appropriate, if we want to try to compare the cost of stream of payments in the future (Medicare) to a lump-sum payment now (usually how the cost of the Iraq War is presented), to use present value.”

It’s appropriate only if you also calculate a present value of the income stream available to pay the cost. That wasn’t done, and therefore the comparison is inappropriate and wildly misleading.

“My intention wasn’t to compare the present value of Medicare payments to a single year of defense spending, or a single year’s lost revenues due to lower taxes.”

But this is precisely what Winecoff did.

“First, both Krugman and Winecoff used the 9.4 trillion figure.”

Krugman didn’t say that it was a component of the deficit. Winecoff just made that up, because he doesn’t know and doesn’t care how the federal government does its accounting.

“Second, as Krugman has ASLO said, by the way, the present value of Part D expenditures is a pretty serious problem, and I’m sure you can imagine way.”

It’s only a problem if some future Congress doesn’t fix it. It would be an easy fix. The money spent on the Iraq war, by contrast, has already been shoveled into the furnace and has gone up the flue.

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sg 05.15.11 at 2:42 am

Henry, I think some of the things you’ve said here would make a nice post on some tips and advice for academics blogging under their own name. Maybe it’s been done before, but it seems that a lot of the lessons you say you learnt came about the hard way, and blogging is a new media form. Maybe a few of the CTers have some useful points to make about the process [or maybe you have already and I missed them, if so sorry].

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Dr. Hilarius 05.15.11 at 7:58 am

Much fun here. Substance McGravitas gets my vote for best use of Mickey Mouse in a political thread.

As a collateral point: Some of the enthusiasm for real estate in the run up to the bubble was a reaction to the dot-com boom and bust. A lot of small investors were burned in the stock market (that place where self-funded pensions go to die) and were looking for something more solid and predictable. Some were naive and bought into the bubble when it clearly was on the cusp of bursting, others just mis-timed the pop.

But now that most of us get to fund our own safety net there is bound to be some desperate and illogical behavior.

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Andrew 05.15.11 at 12:02 pm

Bloix, I think we agree for the most part, if not entirely. I think the disagreements remaining derive from different understandings of what the relevant aspect of the conversation was about when I made my comment.

Bloix @268: But it’s completely misleading to pretend that that present value figure is part of the current deficit.

I agree, but that’s not what I did. The discussion at that point in the comment thread was about the deficit problem generally, not last year’s deficit, or this year’s deficit.

It’s appropriate only if you also calculate a present value of the income stream available to pay the cost. That wasn’t done, and therefore the comparison is inappropriate and wildly misleading.

No, because we were talking about the deficit problem as a whole, which means the deficit problem from a long-term perspective. So the Iraq War is one part of the cost of a 75 year period, and Medicare Part D is another part. The income stream is identical. If we want to simply compare which costs more – which is what we were doing at that point in the conversation – we’d use the present value of Medicare Part D and the lump-sum payment of Iraq (fudging a little on Iraq, since it’s not really a lump sum, but not much).

“My intention wasn’t to compare the present value of Medicare payments to a single year of defense spending, or a single year’s lost revenues due to lower taxes.”

But this is precisely what Winecoff did.

I’m not sure he did. I think Winecoff understood Krugman to be talking about the deficit problem generally – as did Henry (why else would he ask for the discounted value of a stream of Medicare expenditures?). However, I hope you understand if I do NOT go back to examine the record on this!

“First, both Krugman and Winecoff used the 9.4 trillion figure.”

Krugman didn’t say that it was a component of the deficit. Winecoff just made that up, because he doesn’t know and doesn’t care how the federal government does its accounting.

Krugman called it a “budget busting” program. Both Krugman and Winecoff were speaking of it in terms of its contribution to our general deficit problem.

It’s only a problem if some future Congress doesn’t fix it. It would be an easy fix. The money spent on the Iraq war, by contrast, has already been shoveled into the furnace and has gone up the flue.

I disagree. I think Medicare will be a very hard problem to fix.

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Andrew 05.15.11 at 12:03 pm

^ Sorry, there should be italics around Krugman didn’t say that it was a component of the deficit. Winecoff just made that up, because he doesn’t know and doesn’t care how the federal government does its accounting.

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Bloix 05.15.11 at 1:08 pm

271- look, Krugman’s point about Medicare Part D is that the rate of expenditure required to produce an unfunded present value of $7.2 trillion will never happen because if it were allowed to happen it would literally bust the budget – not metaphorically, but literally. It’s literally an unaffordable program at the current rate of taxation. Either taxes will be raised, or the program will be modified to remove the free-money-to-Big-Pharma aspects, or the program will be cut, or the United States will cut other activities to provide the funds – e.g., we’ll eliminate the US Army. One of these things will happen because one of them has to happen. As Herbert Stein once said in a moment of temporary lucidity, “if something cannot go on forever, it will stop.”

So the unfunded aspects of Medicare Part D are extremely important, but they are nothing remotely like the deficit aspects of the Iraq War, which consisted of showering planeloads-full of hundred dollar bills on grifters and criminals who are now funneling some of that money back to their Republican allies so that they can buy elections while using some of the rest to fund other murderous criminal activities around the world (see today’s Times on Erik Prince’s new mercenary adventure in the UAE). That money is not a hypothetical future expenditure. That money is gone, baby, it’s gone.

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Cranky Observer 05.15.11 at 4:53 pm

> Either taxes will be raised, or the program will be modified to
> remove the free-money-to-Big-Pharma aspects, or the program
> will be cut, or the United States will cut other activities to provide
> the funds – e.g., we’ll eliminate the US Army. One of these things
> will happen because one of them has to happen. As Herbert Stein
> once said in a moment of temporary lucidity, “if something cannot
> go on forever, it will stop.”

The ability of large, wealthy nations to continue doing unsustainable things seems to be longer than the ability of the average citizen to remain alive. I too have thought over the last 20 years that “issue X will have to be addressed and fixed”, but the only large-scale one of those issues I am aware of that actually _was_ addressed and fixed was the Y2K software problem (and the process of that fix is now routinely attacked retroactively).

Cranky

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alph 05.15.11 at 4:56 pm

Don’t forget the ozone hole. That problem was identified, addressed, and fixed so successfully that right-wingers now pretend that the initial diagnosis was overblown.

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Bloix 05.15.11 at 10:25 pm

#274 – well, I don’t expect to live for 75 more years. So it’s perfectly possible that it won’t be fixed in my lifetime.

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