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Paul Krugman | Bad Arguments That Just Won't Die

Tuesday, 29 December 2015 00:00 By Paul Krugman, Krugman & Co. | Op-Ed
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Vi Nguyen, right, translates for Kim Trinh, left, as Laura Burbank helps Ms. Trinh sign up for health insurance in Manchester, Mo. (Photo: Whitney Curtis / The New York Times)Vi Nguyen, right, translates for Kim Trinh, left, as Laura Burbank helps Ms. Trinh sign up for health insurance in Manchester, Missouri. (Photo: Whitney Curtis / The New York Times)

In policy discourse, zombies and cockroaches are slightly different kinds of ideas.

Zombie ideas are claims that should have been killed by evidence, but just keep shambling along. An example: the notion that vast numbers of Canadians, frustrated by socialized medicine, come to America in search of treatment. (I first encountered the zombie terminology in a paper about that claim and other myths.) Cockroaches, on the other hand, are claims that disappear for a while when proved ludicrously wrong, but keep on coming back.

I consider the notion that the Affordable Care Act hasn't really reduced the number of uninsured Americans as being a cockroach - it seemed to have subsided for a while after the big enrollment numbers in 2014 and the sharp drop in the rate of uninsured Americans. And really, how could you continue to believe such a thing when data from the National Center for Health Statistics shows that the uninsured rate is dropping, a fact corroborated by independent sources like Gallup?

But the claim is back, as Charles Gaba noted on his blog. Mr. Gaba, the founder of ACASignups.net, says that a recent column in Forbes by Avik Roy is embarrassing, which I guess it is - though how much more embarrassed can the guy who did the totally spurious work on "rate shock" get? I'd say, rather, that his latests column is impressive in the way that it uses multiple layers of misrepresentation to obscure what you might have thought was too obvious to deny.

Mr. Roy's piece is another example of the proposition that in modern political discourse, particularly on the right, no bad argument is ever abandoned. It's like income inequality, where the current position of the usual suspects isn't that it hasn't gone up, it's that inequality has gone up, but it's a good thing, and we can't do anything about it, and anyway it's all the fault of liberals.

The Banality of Trumpism

Brian Beutler at The New Republic recently wrote a good piece about the liberal reaction to Trumpism - which is that the phenomenon "was neither unexpected nor the source of any new or profound lesson."

But I think Mr. Beutler casts his analysis a bit too narrowly. The basic liberal diagnosis of modern conservatism has long been that it is a plutocratic movement that wins elections by appealing to the racism and general anger-at-the-other of whites. So there's nothing too surprising about an election in which the establishment candidates continue to serve plutocracy, while the base turns to candidates who drop the euphemisms while going straight to the racism and xenophobia.

Mr. Beutler writes that "the only people who claim to be befuddled by the Trump phenomenon are officials on knife-edge in the party he leads."

But surely the people most taken by surprise, and least able to handle the phenomenon, are the self-proclaimed centrists, the both-sides-do-it crowd, who denounced the plutocrats-and-racists diagnosis as "shrill," insisting that we are having a real debate with just a few fringe characters on either side. Some of those people are still trying to portray the Republican and Democratic parties as symmetric: Senator Bernie Sanders calling for single-payer health insurance is just like Donald Trump calling for mass deportations and a ban on Muslims.

That was always a silly position. And as Mr. Beutler writes, those of us who were clearheaded about conservative politics are almost bored by the repeated revelations of what we already knew.

© 2016 The New York Times Company
Truthout has licensed this content. It may not be reproduced by any other source and is not covered by our Creative Commons license.
Paul Krugman joined The New York Times in 1999 as a columnist on the Op-Ed page and continues as a professor of economics and international affairs at Princeton University. He was awarded the Nobel in economic science in 2008. Mr Krugman is the author or editor of 20 books and more than 200 papers in professional journals and edited volumes, including "The Return of Depression Economics" (2008) and "The Conscience of a Liberal" (2007).
Copyright 2016 The New York Times.

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Paul Krugman | Bad Arguments That Just Won't Die

Tuesday, 29 December 2015 00:00 By Paul Krugman, Krugman & Co. | Op-Ed
  • font size decrease font size decrease font size increase font size increase font size
  • Print

Vi Nguyen, right, translates for Kim Trinh, left, as Laura Burbank helps Ms. Trinh sign up for health insurance in Manchester, Mo. (Photo: Whitney Curtis / The New York Times)Vi Nguyen, right, translates for Kim Trinh, left, as Laura Burbank helps Ms. Trinh sign up for health insurance in Manchester, Missouri. (Photo: Whitney Curtis / The New York Times)

In policy discourse, zombies and cockroaches are slightly different kinds of ideas.

Zombie ideas are claims that should have been killed by evidence, but just keep shambling along. An example: the notion that vast numbers of Canadians, frustrated by socialized medicine, come to America in search of treatment. (I first encountered the zombie terminology in a paper about that claim and other myths.) Cockroaches, on the other hand, are claims that disappear for a while when proved ludicrously wrong, but keep on coming back.

I consider the notion that the Affordable Care Act hasn't really reduced the number of uninsured Americans as being a cockroach - it seemed to have subsided for a while after the big enrollment numbers in 2014 and the sharp drop in the rate of uninsured Americans. And really, how could you continue to believe such a thing when data from the National Center for Health Statistics shows that the uninsured rate is dropping, a fact corroborated by independent sources like Gallup?

But the claim is back, as Charles Gaba noted on his blog. Mr. Gaba, the founder of ACASignups.net, says that a recent column in Forbes by Avik Roy is embarrassing, which I guess it is - though how much more embarrassed can the guy who did the totally spurious work on "rate shock" get? I'd say, rather, that his latests column is impressive in the way that it uses multiple layers of misrepresentation to obscure what you might have thought was too obvious to deny.

Mr. Roy's piece is another example of the proposition that in modern political discourse, particularly on the right, no bad argument is ever abandoned. It's like income inequality, where the current position of the usual suspects isn't that it hasn't gone up, it's that inequality has gone up, but it's a good thing, and we can't do anything about it, and anyway it's all the fault of liberals.

The Banality of Trumpism

Brian Beutler at The New Republic recently wrote a good piece about the liberal reaction to Trumpism - which is that the phenomenon "was neither unexpected nor the source of any new or profound lesson."

But I think Mr. Beutler casts his analysis a bit too narrowly. The basic liberal diagnosis of modern conservatism has long been that it is a plutocratic movement that wins elections by appealing to the racism and general anger-at-the-other of whites. So there's nothing too surprising about an election in which the establishment candidates continue to serve plutocracy, while the base turns to candidates who drop the euphemisms while going straight to the racism and xenophobia.

Mr. Beutler writes that "the only people who claim to be befuddled by the Trump phenomenon are officials on knife-edge in the party he leads."

But surely the people most taken by surprise, and least able to handle the phenomenon, are the self-proclaimed centrists, the both-sides-do-it crowd, who denounced the plutocrats-and-racists diagnosis as "shrill," insisting that we are having a real debate with just a few fringe characters on either side. Some of those people are still trying to portray the Republican and Democratic parties as symmetric: Senator Bernie Sanders calling for single-payer health insurance is just like Donald Trump calling for mass deportations and a ban on Muslims.

That was always a silly position. And as Mr. Beutler writes, those of us who were clearheaded about conservative politics are almost bored by the repeated revelations of what we already knew.

© 2016 The New York Times Company
Truthout has licensed this content. It may not be reproduced by any other source and is not covered by our Creative Commons license.
Paul Krugman joined The New York Times in 1999 as a columnist on the Op-Ed page and continues as a professor of economics and international affairs at Princeton University. He was awarded the Nobel in economic science in 2008. Mr Krugman is the author or editor of 20 books and more than 200 papers in professional journals and edited volumes, including "The Return of Depression Economics" (2008) and "The Conscience of a Liberal" (2007).
Copyright 2016 The New York Times.

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