FROM BOTH SIDES NOW: Intellectual decline!


Part 1—What Krugman said: As far as we know, Paul Krugman has now written something like his ten millionth important column.

To read that new column, click here.

If our supposition is correct, it’s about the nine millionth such column by Krugman which is misplaced in the New York Times. This column’s important subject matter should be explored in a front-page “news analysis” piece, not in a short op-ed piece.

In today’s column, Krugman explores “the right’s intellectual decline.” We’re not sure that “decline” is the best term here, since the sort of clown show Krugman describes has been transpiring for quite a few decades in that particular tribe.

We’d be more inclined to refer to “the right’s intellectual squalor.” In a wide array of policy areas, that squalor has driven our public discourse for roughly four decades now.

In today’s column, Krugman explores a trio of lousy arguments which he says are being made about Obamacare. As far as we know, Krugman’s presentations are sound, though we’re not entirely sure.

Just a guess. If our newspapers had done their jobs in the past year or so, we might understand these topics better.

Krugman’s first example of “the right’s intellectual decline” involves the phenomenon known as rate shock. In this passage, he explains the problem with a recent claim by the right’s music men:
KRUGMAN (10/21/13): Remember “rate shock”? A few months ago it was all the rage in right-wing circles, with supposed experts claiming that Americans were about to face huge premium increases.

It quickly became clear, however, that what these alleged experts were doing was comparing apples and oranges—and as Ezra Klein of The Washington Post pointed out, oranges that, in many cases, you can’t even buy. Specifically, they were comparing the premiums young, healthy men were paying before reform with the premiums everyone—including those who previously couldn’t get insurance because of pre-existing conditions—will pay under the new system. Oh, and they also weren’t taking into account the subsidies many Americans will receive, reducing their costs.
If we’re reading that passage correctly, it seems to suggest that young, healthy men will be paying higher premiums under the new system.

That said, no one can fully explore this topic in just 115 words. If bogus claims are being made in this area, those claims should be explored, at some length, on the front page of the Times.

Krugman’s second example of the decline also involves so-called rate shock. In this short passage, he refers to a fascinating recent piece at Salon, though you only learn that from a link in Krugman’s on-line column:
KRUGMAN (continuing directly): Now people are signing up for policies on state exchanges and, to a limited extent, on the federal exchange. Where are the cries of rate shock? Anecdotal evidence, which is all we have so far, says that people are by and large happily surprised by the low cost of their insurance. It was telling that when Fox News eagerly interviewed some middle-class Americans who said they had been hurt by the Affordable Care Act, it turned out that none of their guests had actually checked out their new options—they just knew health reform was terrible because Fox News told them so.
We’ll do a full post about that Salon piece later today. At that time, we'll state the obvious: the material in that piece should be reported as news on the front page of the New York Times. It deserves more than 102 words in an op-ed column.

The third example Krugman explores leads to his overriding claim about “the right’s intellectual decline.” Quite colorfully, he discusses a spurious claim about Medicaid—the spurious claim that Medicaid “actually hurts its recipients.”

Krugman bats this claim away in colorful fashion, discussing mistaken ideas about lice once held by certain Pacific Islanders. He then makes his overriding statement about the right’s decline:
KRUGMAN: Sick people are likely to have low incomes; more generally, low-income Americans who qualify for Medicaid just tend in general to have poor health. So pointing to a correlation between Medicaid and poor health as evidence that Medicaid actually hurts its recipients is as foolish as claiming that lice make you healthy. It is, as I said, a lousy argument.

And the reliance on such arguments is itself deeply revealing, because it illustrates the right’s intellectual decline. I mean, this is the best argument their so-called experts can come up with for their policy priorities?
In fairness, we’re not sure this is the main argument “the right” is extending against the expansion of Medicaid. When we watch Fox, we more often hear a different argument: We just can’t afford to do this! We’re $17 trillion in debt!

As far as we know, Krugman is right in his basic premise today. A flotilla of lousy arguments have come from the right concerning the new health law.

As stated earlier, we don’t think this represents the right’s intellectual decline. So-called think tanks on the right have been making lousy arguments about basic policies for quite a few decades now.

Here’s the problem:

When those so-called think tanks have advanced these arguments, the New York Times has averted its gaze, along with our other big mainstream news orgs. And as part of our own intellectual squalor, we on “the left” have relentlessly failed to notice this or complain.

Here’s a bit more of the problem:

It’s always easy for us on the left to talk about the intellectual decline of those in the other tribe. But our own tribe has been sunk in intellectual sloth for quite a few decades now. And, in the last year our so, we have been increasingly active in the task of producing our own intellectual squalor.

It’s always easy to bang the drum about the dumbness of The Others. All week long, we’ll explore the intellectual squalor of our own increasingly numb-nutted tribe.

Our intellectual squalor, ourselves!

We’ve looked at “intellectual decline” from both sides now! We’re willing to extend this suggestion:

It’s rank over here on our side.

Tomorrow: The big dumb of messing with Texas


  1. Salon just published a history I wrote on the right's "decline" as it relates to think tanks. I think it's the back story you need for this post. Ignore the title, I didn't pick it:

    1. A very interesting article you have written I am sure, Jason. However...Rather plainly, Salon is now inventing a culture in which liberal politics consists almost solely in dropping R-, B-, S-, M- and H-bombs. In these ways, We The Good People fluff ourselves as we take The Bad People down.

  2. No one knows what the ACA/Obamacare will cause 5 years from now. Just a fact. The problem with subsidies is what they will cost and how to pay for them. Clearly, Medicare does not really cost the slightly over $100/month premium that it charges seniors. Its subsidized and every once in a while someone on TV tells us its going to bankrupt the country.

    I never saw this idea discussed but why did it not make sense for the federal government to sponsor insurance targeted at people with pre existing conditions, just as the federal government offers flood insurance on houses/property in places that have frequent floods and offers crop insurance to farmers who file claims every year? Why a massive program that will have lots of unintended consequences?

    1. Conservatives do not fear the "unintended consequences" of ACA. They fear the intended ones.

      There was a thorough public discussion of how ACA would be funded and projections of future costs. Pretending that didn't happen is disingenuous. Sponsoring targeted insurance wouldn't work because the concept of insurance depends on a pool of currently non-sick to spread the costs of those who are sick. This is why the conservative opponents of ACA are working so hard to prevent non-sick people from signing up -- to sabotage ACA by reducing the non-sick enrollees who would make inclusion of those with pre-existing conditions affordable.

      The concept of insurance does work. Cynical attempts to undermine provision of health insurance to all people are evil, in my opinion.

  3. Democrat Mickey Kaus lucidly explains a key problem of the ACA at

    BTW Paul Krugman is very smart. He didn't overlook Kaus's point out of stupidity or ignorance. Krugman set out to write an optimistic, upbeat article about ACA, even though it required a fair number of misleading statements.

    1. Great, you found someone in the rightwing clown car who claims to have voted for Obama but defends the indefensible (i.e., Ann Coulter). Here's how uptodate your cite is, and I quote:

      If Republicans can keep the shutdown going for another month, will they get what they want — a delay in Obamacare — in a way that makes it look as if they had wrested it from Obama?

      Yeah, how'd that work out?

      BTW Paul Krugman is very smart, and he understands that the insurance system isn't going to collapse in the first year because it's hard to sign up right now.

    2. ...and by the way David, and everyone else, it is not hard to sign up for Obamacare. It may be difficult to use the federal website, but you can apply by phone or mail. The "train wreck" meme is a scam.