Economist Paul Krugman: Millions of Americans ‘will soon be in dire financial straits’ — and Republicans don’t care

Economist Paul Krugman: Millions of Americans ‘will soon be in dire financial straits’ — and Republicans don’t care
Image via CNN Screengrab.

The coronavirus pandemic has been both a health crisis and an economic crisis in the United States, causing millions of Americans to lose their jobs through no fault of their own. And the Republican response to the economic pain, liberal economist Paul Krugman argues in his August 3 column for the New York Times, is one of indifference.

“Around 1000 Americans are dying from COVID-19 each day — ten times the rate in the European Union,” Krugman laments. “Thanks to our failure to control the pandemic, we’re still suffering from Great Depression levels of unemployment…. Yet enhanced unemployment benefits, a crucial lifeline for tens of millions of Americans, have expired. And negotiations over how — or even whether — to restore aid appear to be stalled.”

Millions of unemployed Americans are not facing severe hardship because of “congressional dysfunction,” Krugman argues, but because Republicans are indifferent to their suffering.

“House Democrats passed a bill specifically designed to deal with this mess two and a half months ago,” Krugman notes. “The Trump Administration and Senate Republicans had plenty of time to propose an alternative. Instead, they didn’t even focus on the issue until days before the benefits ended. And even now, they’re refusing to offer anything that might significantly alleviate workers’ plight. This is an astonishing failure of governance — right up there with the mishandling of the pandemic itself.”

According to Krugman, “The policy proposals being floated by White House aides and advisers are almost surreal in their disconnect from reality. Cutting payroll taxes on workers who can’t work? Letting businesspeople deduct the full cost of three-martini lunches they can’t eat?.... Above all, Republicans seem obsessed with the idea that unemployment benefits are making workers lazy and unwilling to accept jobs.”

Krugman vehemently disagrees with the Republican claim that unemployment benefits are “reducing the incentive to seek work,” noting that “there are more than 30 million workers receiving benefits, but only 5 million job openings. No matter how harshly you treat the unemployed, they can’t take jobs that don’t exist.”

Another thing Republicans fail to understand, Krugman stresses, is that unemployment benefits help the economy.

“A great majority of economists believe that unemployment benefits have helped sustain the economy as a whole by supporting consumer spending,” Krugman explains. “So, the attack on unemployment aid is rooted in deep ignorance, but there’s also a strong element of malice. Republicans have a long history of suggesting that the jobless are moral failures — that they’d rather sit home watching TV than work. And the Trump years have been marked by a relentless assault on programs that help the less fortunate, from Obamacare to food stamps…. The fecklessness of the Trump Administration and its allies means that millions of Americans will soon be in dire financial straits.”

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