19 Aug 2014

In My Life, I’ve Had a Few Posts That Criticized Krugman

Health Legislation, Krugman 32 Comments

How do you guys feel about that claim in my post title? Probably a bit of an understatement, eh?

Now consider the following from Krugman’s latest post on Obamacare:

A few relatively affluent, healthy people are paying more for coverage; a few high-income taxpayers are paying more in taxes; a much larger number of Americans are getting coverage that was previously unavailable and/or unaffordable; and most people are seeing no difference at all, except that they no longer have to fear what happens if they lose their current coverage.

Just re-read that a few times. (And when I say “a few times,” I don’t mean several million times. I mean, a few.)

That is truly dishonest, wouldn’t you say? If he had said “a relatively small proportion” or even “relatively few Americans,” that could have been defensible and we could go to the estimates to see how accurate his claims are. But when Krugman says a few–and he does it twice, so it’s not some grammar glitch in how he started the sentence–that implies that it’s literally a handful of people, doesn’t it? The only reason we know “that can’t possibly be what he means” is that we independently know that it would be absurd to suggest the literal interpretation of his statements.

I probably don’t need to mention that the title of Krugman’s post is, “Beyond the Lies.”

(David R. Henderson has a different complaint with the same Krugman post.)

32 Responses to “In My Life, I’ve Had a Few Posts That Criticized Krugman”

  1. Ken B says:

    Eh? Fraser Institute got to you Bob? Too much time north of the border?

    Anyway, yes, this is a fair cop.

  2. Grane Peer says:

    Why stop there? I’m trying desperately to unpack what “relatively affluent” means. I assume it means; Having some money makes one more relatively affluent than someone who has none. And what does he mean by fear what happens if they lose their current coverage? Oh, because they already did.

  3. Z says:

    This all seems very contentious. We can switch to talking about squirrels if everyone’s okay with that.

  4. David R. Henderson says:

    Good catch, Bob.

  5. Lee Waaks says:

    I work for an insurance company and talk to our customers daily. Only a few have complained about increased premiums. 🙂

  6. Yancey Ward says:

    Yes, Bob nails it. Incredible level of understatement in that little paragraph, plus an outright falsity in the dead middle of it- it is literally false that the number of people with new coverage is greater than all those other groups Krugman minimizes.

    • Harold says:

      Bear in mind that literally doesn’t mean what it did a couple of weeks ago…

  7. DesolationJones says:

    How in the world does it “imply literally a handful?” Words like “few” and “small” have no intelligible meaning unless placed in context relatively to something.

    Your post title can be either true or false. “In My Life, I’ve Had a Few Posts That Criticized Krugman” can be false if you implied “In My Life, I’ve Had a Few Posts That Criticized Krugman in my own blog.” It could also be true if you implied”In My Life, I’ve Had a Few Posts That Criticized Krugman relatively to the entire blogosphere.” Whether it’s true or false is completely up to what the writer implied if they didn’t specify like you didn’t in your title. I naturally inferred that Krugman implied relative to the population because were’ talking about a law that affected over 300 million people. You being Krugman’s #1 fan, of course naturally went to the most ridiculous uncharitable interpretation.

    If someone said, there was a small increase in GDP from the third quarter to the fourth quarter, I would be all like” “Four billion dollars is small? You dishonest liar! “

    • DesolationJones says:

      I wouldn’t* be all like

    • Major.Freedom says:

      Krugman also included “affluent”. A few, relatively affluent and healthy people are claimed as paying higher taxes. Krugman knows his readers are going to believe he means the 1%.

      Nice try though.

      • DesolationJones says:

        For people who aren’t living in a cave and pay taxes, they’ll know he’s referring to the Medicare tax for those with incomes of $200k+, which is a relatively a small amount compared to those who don’t pay the tax.

        • Major.Freedom says:

          Ha, now you’re saying “few” as Murphy used it.

          • DesolationJones says:

            I didn’t say “few”? Are you referring to “small”? Because I’m using it exactly the same same way Krugman meant few.

            Bob needs to assume Krugman’s readers are complete nincompoops to not know what Krugman is referring to. The medicare care tax hike is a widely reported part of obamacare that should be common knowledge by now, especially to those nerdy enough to be reading an economics blog. Krugman trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes by trying to imply only “literally a handful” (what does that even mean? a couple people?) were affected would be ridiculous . I’d get it if he was understating a “few” in regards to some figure in an obscure IMF paper, but that is not the case.

    • Bob Murphy says:

      DJ, you’re ignoring my whole point about the word “a.” There is no way in normal English you can say “a few people” when you really mean “several million people.”

      • DesolationJones says:

        When talking about the entire population of the US, sure you can.

        If someone told you, “Most people in the US aren’t rich, but a few are”, are you seriously not going to get his meaning and call him a liar?

        • Bob Murphy says:

          DJ that would be a very weird sentence. It is not true to say, “Most people in the US aren’t rich, but a few are.” It conveys absolutely no information. The only reason you know what the person “must be trying to say” is that you independently know the situation.

          • Ken B says:

            One would say “some” are or “few” are. Not “a few”. That implies a certain small set not relative scarcity.

            • DesolationJones says:

              Your link states the opposite of what you’re saying.

              “When you use few without ‘a’, you are emphasizing that there are only a small number of people or things of a particular kind. So, for example, if you say ‘I have a few friends’, you are simply saying that you have some friends. However, if you say ‘I have few friends’, you are saying that you do not have enough friends and are lonely.”

              • Bob Murphy says:

                DJ tell you what: Keep your eyes open and see if you ever spot another English writer using “a few” to mean “several million.” And I don’t mean a case where the units have been established, such as an astronomer saying, “The distance to star X is several million light years, while to star Y it’s a few more.” (Even there, that would be a very confusing way to write it–does it means Y is just a few light years beyond X, or a few more million? Not clear.)

                OK? You find me one example of anyone else in English using “a few” when s/he really means “several million.” I will be very surprised.

              • Ken B says:

                I say a few means a small specific set and few means relative paucity. You cite my link saying exactly that, give an example from the link showing exactly that, and claim you have shown my link contradicts me?
                You need to start writing the Kontradictions!

              • DesolationJones says:

                Ken B, you associated “some” with “few” while the link associated “some” with “a few.”

              • Ken B says:

                I contrasted ‘a few’ with ‘few’, noting a few implies a small set, not relative paucity. Thus few must mean relative paucity, by inference from the contrast. Not a hard chain of logic to follow really.

              • DesolationJones says:

                Bob, here’s one.


                “As shown in that graph, just 5% of the US population accounted for close to 50% of all US health care spending (for treatment of patients) in 2009. The top 1% of the population alone accounted for 22% of health care spending. And the bottom 50% of the population accounted only for less than 3% of the spending.

                It should not be surprising that health care spending is concentrated. That is why we carry health insurance. Insurance is to cover costs that may be high in some given year but are also, and hopefully, relatively infrequent and affect only a few of the population. But the degree of concentration may be surprising to some, and the implications of such concentration on the design of an appropriate health financing reform have often been ignored.”

                Would you agree that by “a few” in the second paragraph he’s alluding to the 1% or 5% the population, which would make up several million people?

              • Bob Murphy says:

                Huh, OK fair enough DJ. I think that’s an absolutely awful sentence, but OK you found someone else writing like that. In the next paragraph he says he’s going to make “a few points,” thank goodness he means “a few” and not “several million”!

              • Bob Murphy says:

                (I’m cracking a joke to be funny, I admit you called my bluff. If a student or my son produced such writing, I would say it was wrong, but maybe I’m sheltered.)

              • DesolationJones says:

                I’m sure there are probably tons more examples, but this was an extremely difficult type of thing to google because it’s an oddly specific request. The first example I found was Halo fan faction, and that would have been embarrassing to post. I got lucky the guy who wrote this has fancy credentials. He’s not just random uneducated smuck.

                “Prior to joining the World Bank, I taught in the Department of Political Economy at The Johns Hopkins University. I have a Ph.D. In Economics from Stanford, studied for two terms at Cambridge University (on Keynes, with his student Lord Richard Kahn as my tutor), and have a Bachelor of Arts in Economics from Princeton.”

                Maybe it’s a Keynesian thing because small for them, is big for you.

          • DesolationJones says:

            Note: If you google “a few”, every dictionary you find will say it’s equivalent to “a small amount of.”

            Have you never heard anyone “That’s a small price to pay” for “X” when that “small price” is scary looking number with multiple of digits?

            Here’s something a long the lines of what I’m thinking of.


            “David Salazar, associate vice president of physical planning and facilities management, said the campus has a $2.4-million budget this year for deferred maintenance. That’s a small amount for a big problem, he said.”

            This is equivalent to saying “That’s a few dollars for a big problem.” Is this incorrect in your world?

            • DesolationJones says:

              Have you never heard anyone say*

        • razer says:

          So Hitler wasn’t that bad of guy, then. After all, he only killed a few Jews. Right, DJ?

  8. Tel says:

    Americans are getting coverage that was previously unavailable and/or unaffordable;

    Where there any cases prior to Obamacare where coverage was genuinely unavailable (not because of affordability) ?

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