Economist breaks down why Joe Manchin’s 'out-of-date' policies are bad for 'extremely vulnerable' West Virginia

Economist breaks down why Joe Manchin’s 'out-of-date' policies are bad for 'extremely vulnerable' West Virginia

During his decade in the U.S. Senate, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia has described himself as unapologetically West Virginia-centric. But liberal economist Paul Krugman, in his October 18 column for the New York Times, argues that in fact, the centrist Democrat's opposition to many of President Joe Biden's energy and economic policies is bad for the Appalachian state.

"President Biden's policy agenda is hanging by a thread," Krugman writes. "And the reason can be summarized in two words: Joe Manchin. Well, also Kyrsten Sinema, but does anyone know what's going on with her?"

Krugman continues, "Manchin, the Democratic senator from West Virginia — whose vote is essential, given scorched-earth Republican opposition to anything Biden might propose — is reportedly against the Clean Energy Payment Program, the core of Biden's attempt to take action on climate change, and wants to impose work requirements on the child tax credit, a key element in plans to invest in the nation's children."

The 74-year-old Manchin has been a popular Democrat in a deep red state where Biden lost to former President Donald Trump by 39% — first as a West Virginia governor, then as a U.S. senator. And some readers, upon seeing Krugman's column, will immediately think, "Does a senator in an Appalachian coal state really need advice from a liberal economist who lives in New York City?"

But the thing that makes Krugman's October 18 column such an interesting read is the fact that he really digs into West Virginia's energy and economic situation; he isn't trying to compare West Virginia to New York City or overlooking the fact that Manchin is a deep red state.

"Let's talk about what considerations should sway a politician serving the people of West Virginia," Krugman writes. "At first glance, West Virginia might seem less exposed than many other states to the effects of climate change. It's landlocked, so rising sea levels aren't a direct threat; it's relatively rainy, so it's not in immediate danger of sharing in the disastrous droughts afflicting the U.S. west."

Krugman adds, "But climate change is bringing more severe weather in general, including more heavy rain — and West Virginia turns out to be extremely vulnerable to flooding, in part because of the damage done by past coal mining."

Manchin has been a staunch defender of fossil fuels, and many West Virginia coal miners have voted for him over the years. The people country singer Loretta Lynn sang about in her 1969 hit "Coal Miner's Daughter" are Manchin's base, but Krugman describes his support of coal as antiquated.

"There was indeed a time when the West Virginia economy ran on coal," Krugman stresses. "Back in 1982, when Joe Manchin began his political career as a member of the (West Virginia) State Legislature, wages and benefits paid to coal miners accounted for 16% of the state's total labor income. But the industry's payroll shrank rapidly during the Reagan and Bush I administrations, falling to around 7% of compensation by the mid-1990s. It has declined even more since then, but basically, West Virginia stopped being coal country a generation ago."

Krugman notes that "thanks to fracking, West Virginia has become a significant oil and gas producer" but adds that "this industry generates remarkably little income for West Virginia workers." All things considered, Krugman writes, West Virginia "has a lot to lose and little to gain if the Biden climate plan goes down."

"The most cynical takes on politicians' behavior aren't always right," Krugman explains. "I'd like to hope that Manchin is sincere — that he actually believes that he's protecting his state's interests. The problem is that he seems to have a decades-out-of-date vision of what his state needs. And that distorted vision is now endangering America's future."

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