So Steve Landsburg totally busted Paul Krugman’s bogus critique of Eric Cantor. Specifically, in order to show that Cantor’s insistence that any disaster spending be offset by other cuts violated “basic economics,” Krugman had to initially assume that government fiscal policy was optimal. Neither Krugman nor Cantor thinks that. It is a bit like saying, “Cantor is an idiot! Suppose aliens showed up and said that if we ran a $1 billion higher deficit, then they’d cure cancer. Clearly any reasonable person can see we need higher deficit spending now.”
So what did Krugman do? He could have ignored it, but Landsburg’s blog post is picking up traction and it would have been a glaring omission in the eyes of the free-market econ bloggers (all 6 of us). So instead Krugman very lightly acknowledges the point–without conceding any wrongdoing on his part of course–and then spins it so that Landsburg is a defender of blackmail (hey that’s Walter Block’s job!):
Landsburg points out, correctly, that the proposition that a spending increase should be offset with a little bit of pain everywhere and everywhen — that is, with higher current and future taxes and lower current and future spending on many things — follows from assuming that the government starts from a position of doing the right thing. If you think the government’s priorities are all wrong, then theory doesn’t tell you much about what should happen.
But wait: Eric Cantor is the one claiming that there’s a principle here, that any spending rise on disaster relief must be offset with current spending cuts. I’m critiquing that assertion; there is no such principle. I should have been clearer on that.
Where Landsburg really goes where he shouldn’t, though, is by comparing Cantor’s proposal to denying someone goodies unless he shapes up elsewhere — he uses the example of a teenager who won’t be allowed to go to the prom unless he does his chores. Is that really a good metaphor for what’s happening here?
Remember, Cantor isn’t denying something called “the government” the right to do something it wants to do. He’s denying disaster relief to people hard hit by a hurricane. That is, he’s holding suffering Americans hostage to his goal of smaller government. And the whole point of his offsetting spending cuts thing — his invention of a nonsense principle — is to obscure the ruthlessness of the blackmail involved.
Is this really a tactic you want to defend?
I’ll let Steve defend himself, but I just want to point out that no, Dr. Krugman, Steve wasn’t so much defending Cantor’s political move. He was pointing out that your critique of it–in which you attempt, as always, to cast your opponents as complete idiots who are violating “basic economics”–was a total non sequitur, relying on an initial assumption that neither you nor Cantor believes.
Steve, if you read this first…just collect yourself. Rather than firing off some quick blog post repeating the back-and-forth, try to think of a really good analogy or illustration of Krugman’s diversionary tactic here.
Last point: The post title is a reference to the fact that Krugman routinely guffaws at the “chutzpah” of others. I don’t personally drop Yiddish bombs myself.