Paul Krugman Visits The Colbert Report
June 20, 2012 3 Comments
On Monday night, two of my worlds came together when
Don Draper emerged from the Tardis Paul Krugman visited The Colbert Report. One of the few mainstream voices we have speaking about the economy from a progressive point of view met with the man who should have a Nobel laureateship in satire. And I gotta say, while Krugman’s points are as valid as ever, it wasn’t as magical as I had hoped it would be.
I found that the interview did move forward, but it proceeded at an uncertain pace, never fully finding its footing. Krugman averted his eyes a lot and couldn’t quite invest in talking to Colbert as an enemy, perhaps because he knows that the actual Stephen Colbert agrees with him. Nor, on the other hand, did Krugman seem able to fully talk to Colbert as he might an open ally, because Colbert is there playing a conservative character. Still, while it wasn’t as fun or eloquent as I’d hoped it would be, it was still pretty damned good, in large part because of Krugman’s desperately needed message.
For starters, he gave one of the clearest explanations I’ve heard to differentiate a recession from a depression…
KRUGMAN: A recession is when things are going down. A depression is when things are down.
…and had a couple strong comedic moments, including when he said…
KRUGMAN: It’s not as bad as the Great Depression. (Pause.) I’ve been suggesting that as [an Obama] campaign slogan, but I don’t think it’s going to fly.
But of course, Krugman is at his best when explaining how the economy actually works and what can be done to mend things.
KRUGMAN: There’s a list of things that you really should not do, like lay off lots of government workers while you’re in a depression….It could be quite easy, because at this point if we would just rehire all those teachers and firefighters and police officers that have been laid off in the last several years — laid off because of budget cuts, and because Congress won’t allow aid to state and local governments — we’d be a long way toward getting out of this. We’d have an unemployment rate below 7%. This wouldn’t feel at all like it does right now.
And boy, does he ever highlight how progressive economists tend to be the ones with their feet planted squarely on the ground, as opposed to conservative economists with their belief in some sort of Free Market in the Sky, where we can have heaven on earth so long as we clap our hands loud enough to keep the Confidence Fairy alive. Krugman actually points out how the conservative austerity measures have been tried and don’t work.
KRUGMAN: If you actually look at what European country did conservatives love before this crisis, what was the highest ranked Western country on the [conservative] Heritage Index of Economic Freedom, what was the country that had the lowest corporate tax rates, it was Ireland….Ireland is Romney economics in practice. They’ve laid off a large fraction of their public work force, they’ve slashed spending, they’ve had extreme austerity programs, they haven’t really raised taxes on corporations or the rich at all — they have 14% unemployment, 30% youth unemployment, zero economic growth….Ireland is America’s future if Romney is president.
Like Colbert, Krugman recognizes his good fortune to be a wealthy man, and doesn’t fall into the stupidity trap of thinking that his money is a sign of his superior being. As he points out, being in the one percent depends more on having the right parents than it does in being super smart in some sort of morally superior fashion. And a lot of it is luck. I like that Krugman is a humble man, and shows that, yes, it’s possible to be a pragmatic economist and also an ethical human being. I want this man cloned. In the meantime, I’ll just have to read his book, End This Depression Now!
New Books in Brief: #15. A Summary of ‘End This Depression Now!’ by Paul Krugman
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