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Why Oh Why Are We Ruled by These Liars?

Paul Krugman Talks to Campus Progress

They say: | Five Minutes With: Paul Krugman: Q: What prompted you to write your November 4th column “Defending Imperial Nudity?”....

A: We finally reached a point where a lot of people are starting to acknowledge the obvious, which is that we were deliberately hyped into war, and a lot of defenses are coming up. People are still trying to pretend that nothing happened and it all made sense, and I felt that it was time to find a way to play how ridiculous that is.

Q: I get the feeling that we’re living in a really good political satire.

A: Yeah, or a really tawdry political novel. If you tried to make this stuff up, nobody would dare – they’d say that it’s ridiculous.

Q: You’ve written economics textbooks before. If you had to imagine writing another textbook thirty years from now characterizing economic policy under various presidents, how would you talk about the Bush administration?

A: Well, the answer is that there is no policy. What’s interesting about it is that there’s no sign that anybody’s actually thinking about “well, how do we run this economy?” Everything becomes an excuse to do pre-set things instead of an actual response to an event or a real problem. So, the idea was “we’re going to cut taxes on capital income, as opposed to earned income” and whatever happened became a reason to do that....

Q: Having been a strong proponent of globalization whose enthusiasm on the subject seems to have waned a bit, can you talk about where you stand now and how you think it might be most productive for students who work on this issue to talk about it?

A: If you aren’t a little bit tortured about globalization, you’re not paying attention. I got into economics nearly 30 years ago, in grad school. At the time, development was too depressing as a field – there were no success stories. The club of rich countries had closed in the late 1880s, and there really was no way forward. The very good news is that there has been a lot of upward movement in select parts of the third world. All of that is based on exports, on the opportunities presented by globalization. You can’t be against globalization in general if you support third world countries making their way up in the world.

The downside is that there have by no means been success stories across the board. On the one side, you clearly have some of the most vulnerable people in our own society that have been paying the price, and a lot of developing countries have been following the advice from Washington on globalization, and things have gone very badly. It’s a very mixed picture. What I want to hear is not “let’s rally against globalization,” but “let’s try to fix it.” It’s easy enough to say, but where’s the political constituency for that? Anyone who thinks of globalization as a great unambiguous evil hasn’t been paying attention. Anyone who thinks it’s a total good hasn’t been following things that have been happening in places like Argentina.

Q: I recently got good health insurance for the first time in a while, and I can safely say how what a relief it is. Clearly the US lags well behind other industrialized nations in terms of our numbers of uninsured. Can we make the move to universal coverage?

A: There are two questions there: one is economics, one is politics. The economics is really straight forward. Some kind of national health insurance financed out of a mandatory premium on all wages, a tax, however you want to do it – is clearly the dominant system. The US system is a patchwork with big gaps in it, Medicare, Medicaid, employer based coverage, it’s a mess. It’s the wonder of the world. We get worse results at greater cost than anyone else. We have enormous bureaucracy and administrative expenses basically because private insurers and lots of other players in the system are spending lots of money trying not to cover people.

Now, politics, the trouble is, how do you do that? How do we achieve some approximation to a national healthcare system, given the political realities? The funny thing is, happy majorities in the American public, according to polls, favor guaranteed healthcare for everybody, so we’re not talking about something where the public is against the idea. What we’re talking about is a very powerful set of interests and a very powerful set of ideologues in Washington, who have managed to intimidate the politicians. That’s a really hard thing to get through....

Q: Obviously journalism isn’t your only or even your primary job. It seems like that lets you be more independent and more risk taking.

A: Very much so. There was a long period, from September 2001 until early 2004 when I felt like I was really alone among prominent commentators in saying “hey, we’re being lied to, these people are not defending us, they’re lying to us a lot.” I think had I been worried about a journalistic career, about “will the Times keep me?” I would have been much more inhibited. But, the fact is, if the Times had given into pressure and gotten rid of me, my life actually would have improved in a lot of ways. Personally, it would be easier. Still, I don’t think it would be good if every op-ed columnist was like me. Journalism is a craft and there are things I can’t do. I can’t do investigative reporting, I can’t play Carl Bernstein....