Sleeping on the Krugman Watch
Jude Wanniski
October 30, 2001


Memo To: Paul Krugman, NYTimes
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Zzzzzzz

When you began your twice-weekly column for the Times at the beginning of the year, I promised I would read every column and periodically offer constructive criticism, including high praise if I thought it warranted. You are probably wondering why you have not heard from me in several months, Professor. It only occurred to me on Sunday, while reading your column, “Taking Care of Business,” that I have been negligent in giving you the constructive criticism I promised. The reason is that, while I continue to read each and every one of your offerings on the state of the political economy, I find them uniformly boring. Twice on Sunday I nodded off while attempting to traverse the 750 words you wrote about how the Republicans in Congress were cutting business taxes and you did not like it one bit. There is corruption in high places, you told us in the lead paragraph: “Cynics tell us that money has completely corrupted our politics, that in the last election big corporations basically bought themselves a government that will serve their interests. Several related events last week suggest that the cynics have a point.”

Your Exhibit A on the corruption front is that some Republicans including President Bush do not want to fire all the security workers in the airports who work for private companies and replace them with security workers who are hired by the government. Corruption!! Zzzzzz.

Exhibit B: House Republicans have passed a tax bill that refunds all those taxes that businesses have paid over the last 15 years as an alternative minimum tax. Some cynics might say, Professor, that the government had been corrupted when it levied a tax on all those companies that did not owe any taxes, on the grounds that everyone should pay a tax whether they owe taxes or not. You have a different point of view, and that’s fine. But you are supposed to be an economic genius, hired by the world’s greatest newspaper away from your professorial post at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Your biggest complaint on economic grounds is that the corporations which are going to get these refunds are not going to spend them and besides, “there are no strings tied to these gifts: If the companies want to, say, pay huge bonuses to top executives, they can.” Zzzzzz.

Exhibit C: “The Bush administration announced that the Interior Department would no longer be able to veto mining projects on public land. You might think that extracting minerals from public land, without even paying a royalty, was a privilege rather than an entitlement; but in today’s Washington, financial might apparently makes right.” I’ll admit this sounds pretty corrupt, Dr. Krugman, but I think you missed the point entirely. Going back at least to Thomas Jefferson and maybe even to George Washington, the mining industry has been getting permits on public lands in procedures that facilitate their ability to mine. In one of his 11th hour executive orders, President Clinton gave the Interior Secretary the power to veto permits even after they met all the conditions for the permit given them by the states, a payoff to Al Gore’s buddies who want to shut down mining altogether because it contributes to global warming. President Bush repealed the order. An Interior spokesman explained, “The Clinton regulation essentially told mining companies, ‘You've cleared all 10 hurdles, but we're saying you lose anyway.’” Kind of like the alternative minimum tax, huh?

Now I know you can do better, professor. The economy is in a terrible mess. The stock market continues to fall. Poverty stalks many parts of the world economy. And I read your column expecting to find answers, recommendations, solutions. But you are putting me to sleep. Checking back, I find I snoozed through your October 24 column, “Ban the Bonds,” where you blasted somebody’s idea of issuing “war bonds” to finance higher defense spending. Instead, you said we should tax the rich. On October 14, “Harvest of Lemons,” you celebrated three economists who had to share a Nobel Prize in economics, apparently because the Swedish Academy has run out of candidates who are worth the prize on their own. None of the economists seem to know why the economy is in a terrible mess, why the stock market continues to fall, or why poverty stalks many parts of the world economy.

Maybe that’s why you feel so happy in their company, Prof. But I have to tell you, if you can’t manage to keep me awake in the next few months, I may go into permanent hibernation as far as your column is concerned. Zzzzzz.