Economy

Paul Krugman on Why Republicans Worship 'Quacks and Charlatans'

Getting things epically wrong and denying reality gains you points in today's GOP.

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Today's GOP is a kind of bizarro world where ambitious politicians are forced to pledge allegiance to experts who have gotten just about everything wrong. So writes Paul Krugman in his column Friday, who laments the fact that "charlatans and cranks" have gained increasing favor in the party, despite, or maybe even because of, the fact that they get things wrong, and then, by golly, stick to their guns.

This being Krugman, the topic is economics, specifically "supply-siders," a group which even N. Gregory Mankiw, a professor at Harvard who served for a time as George W. Bush’s chief economic adviser, made fun of when their belief that tax cuts would provide a magical elixir to the economy and miraculously fix deficits proved so very wrong.  But the fact that even a Republican adviser said this approach is bunk has had absolutely no effect on the party's thinking. Proof: Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, a contender for the Republican presidential nomination, spoke at a dinner at Manhattan’s “21” Club this week. It was "hosted by the three most prominent supply-siders: Art Laffer (he of the curve); Larry Kudlow of CNBC; and Stephen Moore, chief economist of the Heritage Foundation. Politico pointed out that Rick Perry, the former governor of Texas, attended a similar event last month. Clearly, to be a Republican contender you have to court the powerful charlatan caucus," Krugman writes.

Not to put too fine a point on it, Krugman adds: "A doctrine that even Republican economists consider dangerous nonsense has become party orthodoxy. And what makes this political triumph especially remarkable is that it comes just as the doctrine’s high priests have been setting new standards for utter, epic predictive failure."

It is not merely that the supply-siders did not see the economic crisis coming, although they didn't. Then again, lots of economists failed to see it, so Krugman gives them a mild pass on that. It's the "post-crisis" developments that have been even more telling. "The people Mr. Walker was courting have spent years warning about the wrong things," Krugman writes.  "'Get ready for inflation and higher interest rates' was the title of a June 2009 op-ed article in The Wall Street Journal by Mr. Laffer; what followed were the lowest inflation in two generations and the lowest interest rates in history. Mr. Kudlow and Mr. Moore both predicted 1970s-style stagflation."

Laffer and Kudlow did admit they were wrong about that, according to Krugman, but the admission has done nothing to dislodge them from their status as Republicans' go-to economists. Krugman then digs into the deeper question of why.

The answer, I’d suggest, runs deeper than economic doctrine. Across the board, the modern American right seems to have abandoned the idea that there is an objective reality out there, even if it’s not what your prejudices say should be happening. What are you going to believe, right-wing doctrine or your own lying eyes? These days, the doctrine wins.

Economics is not the only area in which ideology is trumping facts, evidence and reality. Predictions of Obamacare disasters have not materialized. No exploding deficits or health care costs. Or, take foreign policy. Jeb Bush has now unveiled a team of advisers that comprises "the very people who insisted that the Iraqis would welcome us as liberators."

Krugman concludes:

Along with this denial of reality comes an absence of personal accountability. If anything, alleged experts seem to get points by showing that they’re willing to keep saying the same things no matter how embarrassingly wrong they’ve been in the past.

But let’s go back to those economic charlatans and cranks: Clearly, failure has only made them stronger, and now they are political kingmakers. Be very, very afraid.