Monday, April 11, 2011

Measuring Victory

     Now that the deal is done, some are lamenting that the Speaker of the House may have got less than he should. They argue that by stating his early opposition to a government shutdown he gave away his final bargaining chip. For perspective, imagine that you go into a car dealership and announce that you aren’t leaving without buying a new car. All the salesman has to do then is stick to his price until closing time.

     Still, the deal is much, much better than what was brewing a year ago. And for calibration, it is worthwhile comparing the reactions of the Tea Party to the howl of agony and rage from the Economist-in-Chief of the Orthodox Left: Paul Krugman. In this piece, Krugman bemoans the president’s “loss” in terms that warm the heart of a fiscal conservative:
“Maybe that terrible deal, in which Republicans ended up getting more than their opening bid, was the best he could achieve — although it looks from here as if the president’s idea of how to bargain is to start by negotiating with himself, making pre-emptive concessions, then pursue a second round of negotiation with the G.O.P., leading to further concessions.”
     Well. When you put it that way, the weekend wasn’t so bad after all.


  1. As far as I am concerned, saying that Krugman is an "economist" is akin to saying that Pol Pot was a humanitarian. ;)

  2. Well, I wouldn't put it that way, primarily because I don't like making comparisons with mega-murders when we're just talking about a wonk. Still, I get your point.

    My fear on this issue is that despite Krugman's protest, the Republicans have just proven they won't go to the mat. If they couldn't get the job done with only billions at stake, what's to suggest they will do so when trillions are on the line and the Democrats have all that much more reason to be intransigent?

    This has strayed into a more partisan conversation than I usually like. On the other hand, being disappointed with one party and fully opposed to the other is hardly an endorsement.

  3. Two small points:

    (*) Paul Krugman was once--and for all I know still possesses the capacity to be--a great economist, albeit one as left-wing as it is possible to be consistent with that description. During the '80s and '90s, I paid to read his works and hear him speak and was often--if not always convinced--at least enlightened. One can and should bemoan his baleful influence today without forgetting his past. The visible harm he does today is matched by the loss of the first-class economist who died when Paulie Krugnuts was born (ca. 2000).

    (*) The GOP leadership often deserves derision, but I am not sure that their oft-repeated statements that "they won't allow a government shutdown" are an occasion for it. Rather than, as some critics assert, giving away their best chip--a government shutdown--it was their only way of preserving that option. If they had openly threatened a government shutdown, the media would have ensured that all public blame for it falls on them, making it political cyanide and therefore impossible to execute. Only by swearing up and down the aisle that they were against a government shutdown, could they afford to risk one without committing harakiri.

  4. I should add that Krugman, in addition to being a first-rate economist, also was an excellent popularizer of economic ideas. In both respects, I would not rank him *far* below Milton Friedman.

    All of that is true even though today's Krugnuts may be the worst partisan political hack--outside of professional party spokespeople, but including, e.g., James Carville--with a broad audience and my personal reactions to reading one of his NYT columns probably are not far off from those experienced by T. Paine.

  5. Aeternitatis, interesting point about promising no shutdown as a way of keeping that barb in the quiver. Let's hope that was the plan. My fear, though, is that we've seen a preview of what will happen with the Ryan budget. Let's hope my fears are groundless, and your optimism is proven right.