Paul Krugman Ironically Asks 'How Can Voters Be So Ill Informed?'

In his lifetime, Princeton economics professor and Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman has published 20 books, over 200 papers, and since the year 2000 two columns a week at the New York Times.

Clearly without understanding the irony of his question, the man once accused by the Gray Lady's ombudsman of possessing a "disturbing habit of shaping, slicing and selectively citing numbers" asked his readers Monday, "How can voters be so ill informed [sic]?":

The key point to understand is that while many voters say that they want lower spending, press the issue a bit further and it turns out that they only want to cut spending on other people.

That’s the lesson from a new survey by the Pew Research Center, in which Americans were asked whether they favored higher or lower spending in a variety of areas. It turns out that they want more, not less, spending on most things, including education and Medicare. They’re evenly divided about spending on aid to the unemployed and — surprise — defense.

The only thing they clearly want to cut is foreign aid, which most Americans believe, wrongly, accounts for a large share of the federal budget.

Pew also asked people how they would like to see states close their budget deficits. Do they favor cuts in either education or health care, the main expenses states face? No. Do they favor tax increases? No. The only deficit-reduction measure with significant support was cuts in public-employee pensions — and even there the public was evenly divided. [...]

How can voters be so ill informed [sic]?

Readers should note the "[sic]" after informed, as the proper spelling is ill-informed, unless of course one is talking about a medical professional. But the sentences that immediately followed were the real treasures: 

In their defense, bear in mind that they have jobs, children to raise, parents to take care of. They don’t have the time or the incentive to study the federal budget, let alone state budgets (which are by and large incomprehensible). So they rely on what they hear from seemingly authoritative figures.

Might one of those "seemingly authoritative figures" be a Nobel Laureate in economics that has a "disturbing habit of shaping, slicing and selectively citing numbers" in his twice-weekly articles at the New York Times?

Consider that Krugman is quite possibly the most well-known and oft-cited liberal economist in America today. If the public is so ill-informed about how government budgets work, isn't he not only part of the problem but potentially at its very core?

Bear in mind that Monday's column entitled "Eat the Future" was another in a long line of Krugman pieces excoriating Republicans - especially Tea Partiers! - for wanting to rein in spending before the nation is swamped with debt it will never be able to pay off.

The Nobel Laureate once again was preaching for more spending on the very day President Obama increased 2010's projected budget deficit to a staggering $1.65 trillion.

Just nine years ago, our entire budget not including Social Security and Medicare was $1.65 trillion. Yet Krugman wants even more red ink.

As I noted earlier on Monday, this means that in the four years since the Democrats took over Congress in 2007, our nation ran up deficits in excess of $5 trillion. This is more than the cumulative deficits in the previous 220 years since our Constitution was written.

Does Krugman know this? Does he care? Has he ever informed his readers of the kind of spending that's happened in Washington since January 2007?

Before answering, consider some more data about how these deficits relate to the past. Prior to 2009, the largest inflation-adjusted deficit America had ever seen was in 1943. That year's $55 billion deficit would equate to $693 billion in 2010 dollars.

As Obama's 2011 budget deficit is now projected at $1.65 trillion, that's almost $1 trillion more in red ink than when our nation was still mired in the Great Depression and fighting World War II.

But Krugman doesn't think spending is high enough.

In the final year of WWII, America spent $93 billion or over twice what it collected in taxes. In today's dollars, that's $1.1 trillion.

In 2011, Obama will spend $3.3 trillion on on-budget items (not including Social Security and Medicare). But Krugman doesn't think it's enough even though it's three times as much as we spent in 1945 during World War II.

To be fair, the population is larger today than then, and the size of our government should reflect that. To compare apples to apples, let's account for this.

In 1945, America had 140 million people. Today, it's 310 million, or 121 percent more.

If we take 1945's inflation-adjusted spending of $1.1 trillion and multiply it by 2.21, we get $2.4 trillion.

This means that if our federal government - not including Social Security and Medicare - since the end of World War II had only grown at a rate that accounted for inflation and population increases, we'd be spending $900 billion less today, a 27 percent decrease.

But even that's not completely fair, for our budget had exploded almost ten-fold during WWII from $9.5 billion to $93 billion. As such, let's look at 1947 when our spending got a little more in line.

That year, we had outlays of $35 billion. In 2010 dollars, that's $342 billion. Our population has grown by 115 percent since then, which means our inflation and population adjusted spending in 1947 was $723 billion.

As such, if our post-World War II on-budget expenditures had only risen by a rate compensating for inflation and population increases, we'd be spending almost $2.6 trillion less today, or 78 percent, allowing us to have far lower tax rates to meet these obligations.

Not only that, our outstanding debt would probably be 70 to 80 percent lower than it currently is or more thereby reducing long term interest rates significantly. This would also give us far more options to resolve the coming crises in Medicare and Social Security without such solutions either busting the budget or further demolishing the middle class.

But these aren't concepts economics Nobel Laureate Krugman has been teaching at Princeton or apprising his many readers of over the years. Instead, he just wants more spending.

Something else to consider when pondering the benefit of government growing commensurate with inflation and the population as opposed to at some rate tied to the growth in the economy is that it makes government recession proof. Given the recent financial and economic collapse, this seems like a slam dunk.

During the past two expansions, state and federal governments grew their outlays as tax receipts expanded. By doing so, they ensured they would have signfiicant shortfalls once the recessions came.

Wouldn't it be better if governments didn't do that? Wouldn't it be advantageous if they became recession proof by only growing at the combined rate of population and inflation growth so that they didn't run massive deficits and have trouble functioning every time the economy turned down?

Maybe if professor and columnist Krugman educated his students and readers of these simple budget principles rather than the socialism he's been advocating for decades the public would have better-informed answers when asked their economic opinions by pollsters.

The same can be said of Krugman's colleagues throughout the media who also do a terrible job of addressing budget issues thereby adding to the public's lack of understanding of such matters.

A perfect example was when the new Republican Congress in 1995 wanted to balance the budget by slowing the growth in some programs down from 12 percent per year to 7 percent. Media members at the time claimed the GOP was cutting such programs.

Think telling people a 7 percent increase is a cut adds to how "ill informed" they are?

Of course, one has to wonder whether this is negligence on the press's part or if many of them are so caught up in their advocacy they actually don't have a clue how wrong they are.

If ignorance is bliss, when it comes to budgets, most press rooms must be heaven.

Taxes Stimulus Social Security Recession Business Coverage Earmarks Budget Banking/Finance Bailouts Economy New York Times
Noel Sheppard's picture

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