More Krugman Blather

Paul Krugman is at it again, now ranting that America is becoming a "one-party state". So, let’s give Mr. Krugman yet another Brillo-pad and Tobasco fisking…

In principle, Mexico’s 1917 Constitution established a democratic political system. In practice, until very recently Mexico was a one-party state. While the ruling party employed intimidation and electoral fraud when necessary, mainly it kept control through patronage, cronyism and corruption. All powerful interest groups, including the media, were effectively part of the party’s political machine.

Such systems aren’t unknown here — think of Richard J. Daley’s Chicago. But can it happen to the United States as a whole? A forthcoming article in The Washington Monthly shows that the foundations for one-party rule are being laid right now.

In "Welcome to the Machine," Nicholas Confessore draws together stories usually reported in isolation — from the drive to privatize Medicare, to the pro-tax-cut fliers General Motors and Verizon recently included with the dividend checks mailed to shareholders, to the pro-war rallies organized by Clear Channel radio stations. As he points out, these are symptoms of the emergence of an unprecedented national political machine, one that is well on track to establishing one-party rule in America.

Well, let’s start restricting freedom of speech right away then! Heaven forbid that a radio talk show host be able to speak out! What kind of country is this that people are able to exchange ideas freely! Why, we need to avoid the mistakes of Mexico by ensuring that no opposition group can criticize the government or suggest policy!

Mr. Confessore starts by describing the weekly meetings in which Senator Rick Santorum vets the hiring decisions of major lobbyists. These meetings are the culmination of Grover Norquist’s "K Street Project," which places Republican activists in high-level corporate and industry lobbyist jobs — and excludes Democrats. According to yesterday’s Washington Post, a Republican National Committee official recently boasted that "33 of 36 top-level Washington positions he is monitoring went to Republicans."

Oh, a conspiracy story! With Grover Norquist even! How does this tie into the Stonecutters and the Bavarian Illuminati?

Of course, interest groups want to curry favor with the party that controls Congress and the White House; but as The Washington Post explains, Mr. Santorum’s colleagues have also used "intimidation and private threats" to bully lobbyists who try to maintain good relations with both parties. "If you want to play in our revolution," Tom DeLay, the House majority leader, once declared, "you have to live by our rules."

So, Mr. Krugman is relying on an anonymous "colleague" of Senator Santorum (who wants to take bets on this person being a Democrat?) and a quote offered with absolutely no context. Does anyone sense that Krugman is using the tried-and-test Maureen Dowd spin cycle?

Lobbying jobs are a major source of patronage — a reward for the loyal. More important, however, many lobbyists now owe their primary loyalty to the party, rather than to the industries they represent. So corporate cash, once split more or less evenly between the parties, increasingly flows in only one direction.

And corporations themselves are also increasingly part of the party machine. They are rewarded with policies that increase their profits: deregulation, privatization of government services, elimination of environmental rules. In return, like G.M. and Verizon, they use their influence to support the ruling party’s agenda.

Of course, these policies also help reduce government dependency, help stimulate the economy, and might actually be sound. But if they increase corporate profits at the same time, why then they must be evil.

As a result, campaign finance is only the tip of the iceberg. Next year, George W. Bush will spend two or three times as much money as his opponent; but he will also benefit hugely from the indirect support that corporate interests — very much including media companies — will provide for his political message.

Naturally, Republican politicians deny the existence of their burgeoning machine. "It never ceases to amaze me that people are so cynical they want to tie money to issues, money to bills, money to amendments," says Mr. DeLay. And Ari Fleischer says that "I think that the amount of money that candidates raise in our democracy is a reflection of the amount of support they have around the country." Enough said.

First of all, Krugman assumes that the media supports Bush and the Republicans. Except Open has detailed lists of who gave what to whom. The number one contributor to the Democratic Party in 2001-2002 was the entertainment industry with $32,403,975 in contributions. Who gave $1,007,865 to the DNC in 2002? Why Viacom, yet another media company. Newsweb Corp. was also a top contributor to both the DNC, and the Democratic Senate and House Campaign Committees. Not to mention the loyally Democratic givers from AOL/TimeWarner and Microsoft, all of whom tend to give large sums to Democratic candidates. In fact, in 2002, the TV/Movies/Music industry gave 82% of their political contributons to Democrats and 18% to Republicans. Suddenly it seems like this one-party monopoly in the media is based on a rather biased sample. One would think that a trained and astute economist would know better.

Of course, with the Democrats, that money doesn’t influence policy. Why Sen. Ernest Hollings would never be influenced by his $50,783 from AOL/TimeWarner, his $35,750 from AT&T, and especially not his $26,500 from Disney. Why he would never support policies designed to erode public fair use rights on movies, software, and music! (Also, if this conspiracy is so successful, then why did Fox News parent corporation News Corp. also give $31,724 to Senator Hollings, as well as $25,000 to the Democratic Party in 2002?) We all know that only Republicans do those sorts of things, right Professor K?

Mr. Confessore suggests that we may be heading for a replay of the McKinley era, in which the nation was governed by and for big business. I think he’s actually understating his case: like Mr. DeLay, Republican leaders often talk of “revolution,” and we should take them at their word.

Why isn’t the ongoing transformation of U.S. politics — which may well put an end to serious two-party competition — getting more attention? Most pundits, to the extent they acknowledge that anything is happening, downplay its importance. For example, last year an article in Business Week titled "The GOP’s Wacky War on Dem Lobbyists" dismissed the K Street Project as "silly — and downright futile." In fact, the project is well on the way to achieving its goals.”

Yes, perhaps the Republicans will be able to increase that percentage to 20% next year. Furthermore, there’s been no evidence that any of this will have any effect on the two-party system. The Democratic Party isn’t weak because it’s getting outspent. It’s weak because it is out of ideas. No amount of chilling restrictions on political speech can make up for that idea deficit.

Of course, what leftist can resist the old canard about evil Republicans wanting to take us back to the Gilded Age. Never mind that it’s the other side of the aisle that can’t get its head out of the past by embracing the kind of high-tax big-government statism that’s already failed over and over across the globe. If the GOP supposedly wants to take us back to the Gilded Age, the Democrats want to take us back to Otto von Bismarck’s welfare state.

Whatever the reason, there’s a strange disconnect between most political commentary and the reality of the 2004 election. As in 2000, pundits focus mainly on images — John Kerry’s furrowed brow, Mr. Bush in a flight suit — or on supposed personality traits. But it’s the nexus of money and patronage that may well make the election a foregone conclusion.

Of course, Krugman would love everyone to believe that the Republicans are the ones who are the primary beneficiary of this. Then again, it took me less than five minutes to pull up the figures from the FEC and see that the Democrats are equally guilty of this. Furthermore, if this problem does exist, what exactly would Professor Krugman like done? Should we eliminate campaign contributions, and restrict the freedom of people to support issues and politicians they like. Then again, Buckley v. Valeo already put a nail in that coffin. Or would Professor Krugman suggest that conservative and Republican voices be silenced by fiat, just because they happen to be more persuasive than liberal ones?

Of course, answering those questions would reveal the thinly-veiled contempt leftists have for a free marketplace of ideas (as they have for any kind of free market). The fact is, in the battle of ideas, conservatism is winning, and money is only one small part of the story. It’s not money that explains the recent ascendance of the GOP, it’s ideas. Too bad Professor Krugman seems to be so lacking in them.

UPDATE: As expected The Krugman Truth Squad is all over this one…

3 thoughts on “More Krugman Blather

  1. Krugman is normally one of my heroes, and he certainly makes a good point that the growing correlation between the limitless upward mobility of our corporate institutions and their influence over public policy. Still, his argument did give the impression that there was only one party shackled down to the will of special interests, and that there is no organized institution that favors Democrats. His argument would have had more weight if he addressed how the nation’s new political and special interest dynamic will be the equivalent of a bloody Holocaust for any institution or interest group that doesn’t fit comfortably within the parameters of this dynamic, including public education, blue-collar workers, and government employees. These needed institutions and the individuals who are associated with them in any capacity will become corpses rotting in the GOP gas chambers if current trends continue.

    You can run from the facts, but you can’t hide from them. America (and the rest of the civilized world) spent a century overcoming the sort of society that your Milton Friedman textbooks have told you are most effective. Of course, the fact that every civilized economy of the world has shed their skin of this worldview more than 50 years ago is irrelevant to a man on an ideological rampage. Your consistent snarling about the ineffectiveness of the government and economic models that surround you and have paid your way through an expensive private college is a perfect example of the arrogance of privilege. Perhaps if you had been born 100 years earlier, your beckoning of the glory days of the McKinley era would have more merit. But seeing as how the people who actually did live through that period worked tirelessly to escape it, I think I have to go with the history books over the financial peyton place utopia that exists in your mind.

  2. Have you actually read Friedman?

    He points out, quite astutely, that there’s a direct correlation between government power and government corruption. The more power given to the bureaucracy the more incentive there is for corporations to influence policy. A system of limited government reduces corruption because the government cannot influence policy that favors certain corporations. Look at the ELF/Acquitaine scandal in France. Because the French government has more power over the economy, they have more endemic corruption.

    The best way to restrain corruption isn’t to restrain corporations, it’s to restrain the government.

    And you’re right – the US economic model allowed me to have an education that my grandparents could never have imagined. If we had a model of statism and limited economic freedom, I probably never would have had the opportunity, along with most of my classmates who came not from privilege, but from middle-class families who saved and planned to give their children opportunity. Such a system is most certainly worth preserving.

  3. I’ve definitely read Friedman. It was like pulling my own teeth out of my mouth with a pliers, but I survived with minimal permanent damage. Beyond that, you can’t have it both ways. You can’t lay claim to the oppressive overregulated and overtaxed business climate that have devastated initiative and enslaved Americans to a welfare state Leviathan, yet still say it was America’s “economic freedom” over this same time period that enabled you to attend Gustavas. Don’t you see just a little bit of a problem with arguing both of these things at the same time?

    Your other argument is indicative of the fundamental differences between liberals and conservatives. I’m of the mind that any institution that becomes overly empowered will abuse that power. This certainly applies to too much government, but the difference between government being unregulated and the marketplace being unregulated is that government’s fate is determined by the people in a democracy. Government that overextends can be altered dramatically on the first Tuesday in November on every even-numbered year. The same cannot be said about those who abuse the marketplace.

    Another difference is that even though most liberals believe government serves a necessary role in bettering society, but acknowledge that it can be abusive and excessive if poorly regulated. However, conservatives, particularly hard-core ideologues like yourself, believe that the marketplace is incapable of doing anything that will cause any harm worthy of regulation…that “economic freedom” should have no responsiblity attached to it for it to function effectively. Such idealism didn’t produce a liveable society a century ago and it won’t produce a liveable society today.

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