Name dropping

Matthew Hoy
By Matthew Hoy on September 28, 2008

Paul Krugman's latest bit of political hackery is so transparently dishonest that you almost wish the Adviser from Enron had even more space to spread his manure.

It's 3 a.m., a few months into 2009, and the phone in the White House rings. Several big hedge funds are about to fail, says the voice on the line, and there's likely to be chaos when the market opens. Whom do you trust to take that call?

I'm not being melodramatic.

Yes you are.

A 3 a.m. call about hedge funds failing? Why in the world would someone call the president to wake him up about that? Seriously, what is he going to do? Go on CNN at 4 a.m. to calm the fears of the nation's insomniacs? Nationalize the financial industry a la Hugo Chavez?

The bailout plan released yesterday is a lot better than the proposal Henry Paulson first put out - sufficiently so to be worth passing. But it's not what you'd actually call a good plan, and it won't end the crisis. The odds are that the next president will have to deal with some major financial emergencies.

And why is this plan "a lot better" than the original one? Is it because recalcitrant House Republicans improved it because Nancy Pelosi wanted political cover in case this whole thing ends up blowing up in the political class' face?

Since this isn't a good plan, why don't you Herr Doktorprofessor use this valuable space in one of the nation's largest newspapers to outline a "good plan"? Seriously. You've allegedly got the expertise. What is the Krugman Plan?

Heck, I'll even give him a pass on the Krugman Social Security Plan that he promised but never delivered on.

And now, the hackery.

About Mr. Obama: it's a shame that he didn't show more leadership in the debate over the bailout bill, choosing instead to leave the issue in the hands of Congressional Democrats, especially Chris Dodd and Barney Frank. But both Mr. Obama and the Congressional Democrats are surrounded by very knowledgeable, clear-headed advisers, with experienced crisis managers like Paul Volcker and Robert Rubin always close at hand.

And Jim Johnson and Franklin Raines -- former Fannie Mae chiefs who cooked the books and enriched themselves at what will now turn out to be taxpayers expense.

So, Obama's to be trusted because of who he surrounds himself with, and McCain's "frightening" because of who he surrounds himself with.

Then there's the frightening Mr. McCain - more frightening now than he was a few weeks ago.

We've known for a long time, of course, that Mr. McCain doesn't know much about economics - he's said so himself, although he's also denied having said it. That wouldn't matter too much if he had good taste in advisers - but he doesn't.

Remember, his chief mentor on economics is Phil Gramm, the arch-deregulator, who took special care in his Senate days to prevent oversight of financial derivatives - the very instruments that sank Lehman and A.I.G., and brought the credit markets to the edge of collapse. Mr. Gramm hasn't had an official role in the McCain campaign since he pronounced America a "nation of whiners," but he's still considered a likely choice as Treasury secretary.

And last year, when the McCain campaign announced that the candidate had assembled "an impressive collection of economists, professors, and prominent conservative policy leaders" to advise him on economic policy, who was prominently featured? Kevin Hassett, the co-author of "Dow 36,000." Enough said.

Enough said? Krugman doesn't attack Gramm and Hassett because of any views or advice they're currently giving McCain -- just because Gramm was a deregulator and Hassett co-wrote a book with a title that will eventually become true.

And about Gramm's deregulator streak -- who else was part of that? If you said Joe Biden, you'd be right. Obama's No. 2 guy voted for the infamous Gramm-Leach-Bliley act that Krugman is referring to. Not only that, but the "Leach" in that bill's name is former Rep. Jim Leach of "Republicans for Obama" and a speaker at the Democratic National Convention.

The act passed in 1999, when Clinton was president and was supported by, among others, the aforementioned Robert Rubin.

Yet, Krugman is impressed with Obama's advisers and "frightened" by McCain's -- and all of them supported "the very instruments that sank Lehman and A.I.G."

But even President Bush has, in the twilight of his administration, turned to relatively sensible people to make economic decisions: I'm not a fan of Mr. Paulson, but he's a vast improvement over his predecessor. At this point, one has the suspicion that a McCain administration would have us longing for Bush-era competence.

And Bush can only even get a back-handed compliment from Krugman when it serves his larger purpose of attacking another Republican who may be come president.

The real revelation of the last few weeks, however, has been just how erratic Mr. McCain's views on economics are. At any given moment, he seems to have very strong opinions - but a few days later, he goes off in a completely different direction.

Thus on Sept. 15 he declared - for at least the 18th time this year - that "the fundamentals of our economy are strong." This was the day after Lehman failed and Merrill Lynch was taken over, and the financial crisis entered a new, even more dangerous stage.

But three days later he declared that America's financial markets have become a "casino," and said that he'd fire the head of the Securities and Exchange Commission - which, by the way, isn't in the president's power.

Except that the last part probably is in the president's power.

And then he found a new set of villains - Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-sponsored lenders. (Despite some real scandals at Fannie and Freddie, they played little role in causing the crisis: most of the really bad lending came from private loan originators.) And he moralistically accused other politicians, including Mr. Obama, of being under Fannie's and Freddie's financial influence; it turns out that a firm owned by his own campaign manager was being paid by Freddie until just last month.

Yeah, we musn't mention them, because to mention them would require pointing out Raines and Johnson, and we musn't besmirch Obama.

And then there's these inconvenient truths:

That's right, Krugman excuses Fannie and Freddie, yet as Jim Angle's report points out, when Raines was fired for his financial mismanagement, as part of their deal with Congress, Fannie and Freddie promised to do more to help poor people get mortgages.

In order for Fannie and Freddie to prove they were "doing more" for the poor, they created a market for those subprime mortgages, which private lenders were happy to supply.

Krugman's a dishonest hack. Which explains why he's right at home at the New York Times.


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September 2008



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