Not the man. The panel discussion he moderated on This Week last Sunday. I watched because I heard its topic would be: Is this economy built to last? And Paul Krugman, my favorite economist at the moment, was to be on along with George Will, the conservative columnist who usually has something interesting to say and four other folks who might contribute as well. I’ll get to the others later. Krugman and Will sat immediately to the left and right of G. S. respectively, which reflects their political inclinations as it did with the other four participants as well.
Afterwards George summed it up as “a fantastic discussion.” Well, maybe in a teeny-weeny TV sort of way, but not really. Thirty minutes was barely enough time to scratch the surface, given the breadth of the topic and the diversity of the group. People offered their particular agendas, often only tangential to the THE QUESTION, with relatively little agreement. To call that “fantastic” reminds me of that psychotically chipper “ambassador” to the ever punished districts in the Hunger Games, the one who made the contests to the death seem like fun.
The panel lacked sufficient areas of agreement to do anything but politely squabble. The question which shaped this discussion was not the one stated but instead: How many viewers can we reel in? It is the kind of pseudo seriousness that rules these media shaped political discussions. The question was chosen not to be answered but to attract viewers sort of like the news promo: “Does walking your dog cause cancer? Tune in at 11.”
Always intent on turning a frown upside down, I will try to illuminate a few things worth remembering, and a number of them deal with the sub-text, not the faux discussion. What’s that baseball saying? You can’t tell the players without a program? Well, allow me to say a little something about these players, which might help in understanding what was really going on, and what might be useful to take away from it.
As to the question of keeping the economic recovery going, Krugman really was the “main man” here as he is a Nobel winning economist who has just published another book End this Depression Now. He has a column in the NY Times and a bunch of other books and can back his case with a slew of economic facts quicker than I can type “economic facts.” He also posts very often on a blog titled: “The Consciousness of a Liberal.” So, the far right can’t stand him, especially because he is both very smart and very combative verbally. President Obama has complimented him for his smarts, which only makes the far right hate him even more.
Krugman often argues that the way to really build a recovery is for the government to spend more money, hire back the teachers, rebuild the bridges, put more money into new energy etc., which is what his latest book is about. He points to Europe’s stagnant economy and the austerity measures they employed as an indication budget cutting right now would be a terrible idea. The right calls the stimulus a dud, but Krugman argues it helped us stay afloat and it would have helped more if we had spent more (see my Stimulus page for more).
Not that he is unconcerned about the debt problem. He says it’s a matter of priorities. First build the economy to last and then tackle the debt hard and fast (I shaped the rhyme, just for fun). Not that Krugman spilled this all out immediately, but this is where he is coming from and, if he’s right, a key to economic recovery.
On the right side of G. S. was the conservative George Will, who was given first shot at commenting and immediately dissed THE QUESTION replacing it with his own: “The threshold question is not is the recovery built to last, but does it exist?”. He emphasized how weak the recovery was and later compared it to 11 other post WWII recoveries which appeared to puzzle him. He is now 71, I mean exactly now – it’s his birthday today – so he may actually be bewildered like I am at times. But I suspect he was just playing dumb, leaving us to fill in the blanks. Why is this recovery so slow? Hmm….what’s so different now? (Can you spell O-B-A-M-A?).
Krugman immediately challenged Will’s assertions, and those of others later, giving several reasons why the recovery is stronger than Will portrayed it, chomping away at his points like a pit bull. Will is not an economist, so he wisely did not respond.
Now meet Carlie Fiorina, sitting to the right of Will and less wise. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, she was the CEO of Hewlett- Packard for three years before she was fired. Then she ran unsuccessfully against Barbara Boxer for senator in California and now co-chairs the Mitt Romney election team in California, which makes her, unlike the others on the panel, a clear cut political operative. That means she sticks to the party line.
Over the course of the “discussion” she emphasized a number of key points, as if no one had thought of them before, greater support for small business – “fewer are starting and more are failing than any time in the past 40 years” – the need to improve education and the need to reform our tax code, most importantly to reduce our corporate tax rate which is the highest in the world.
Have you seen those Southwest commercials emphasizing the additional fees other airlines charge, the ones where a referee jumps in from nowhere and calls “foul”? Think of Krugman as that referee who, trying to be civil, restrained himself from jumping in and instead sat quietly appearing to need an emergency bathroom break. However, as soon as a second of silence arrived he said: “Nothing you just said about business taxes is true.”
Part of what he meant, if not exactly stated, is corporations don’t actually pay that high of a rate once their phalanx of tax lawyers begin chomping away like rats at a picnic, with a little three card monty thrown in. The NY Times has examined Apple’s world wide tax rate and it’s about 9.8%, one more reflection of how good they are at everything. Even less resourceful companies, like Walmart, average only around 24% a year, not the 39.2% that’s official. Republicans know that. They just prefer to maintain the half-truth, implying Democrats don’t understand business needs like they do.
Later Fiorina tangled with Jennifer Granholm, her female counterpart on the left side, and former governor of Michigan when the auto bailout occurred. Sounding just like the Romney surrogate she is, Fiorina doubled down on Mitt’s original assertion that bailing out GM was a mistake. As Fiorina spoke, Granholm seemed warming up to an epileptic fit: “We tried everything,” she eventually spat out, waving her arms about to further make the point. But Fiorina had a rejoinder: The government should have just called the big bankers together and insisted they loan the money to the car companies, as if that would have been as simple as pie. Remember the last time the bankers were called together by the treasury secretary? Few loans resulted as the banks preferred to take that money and invest it.
OH, MY! I JUST NOTICED HOW LONG THIS POST IS GETTING.
Blog Posts are not meant to be book length, so I’ll introduce the other two panel members and continue my deconstruction Tuesday. I hope I’ve prompted some interest in this “discussion” and in the meantime, some of you will want to see it for yourself at this ABC web page, which provides a written synopsis along with videos.
Of course, the slackers among you can just wait for more of my slant Tuesday which I’ll be happy to provide. Despite its shortcomings as a discussion, I think the show offered several points worth noting and building upon later.