It may seem a bit de trop to take on a Paul Krugman blog post yet again, but the reason for focusing on his post yesterday on the TransPacific Partnership is less for its substance and more as a political zeitgeist indicator.
The distressing part about the role Krugman has chosen to play is that he too often throws his good name behind dubious Team Dem initiatives and orthodox economic thinking. Lesser figures, as in mere working journalists and commentators who advance various interests among the political and policy elites (think Ezra Klein or Andrew Ross Sorkin) take care to have enough substantive, independent-looking work so as to lend credence to their defenses of an increasingly corrupt status quo.
Krugman, of course, as a Nobel prize winner, operates in a completely different league. His credibility rests on his economics chops. He can thus rely on his established brand more heavily than lesser figures. But even for someone like Krugman, there are limits on how far your authority will take you.
Krugman’s blog post on the TPP was of the “move on, nothing to see here” sort: “… I’ve been having a hard time figuring out why this deal is especially important….I don’t want to be too dismissive. But so far, I haven’t seen anything to justify the hype, positive or negative.”
Now one might charitably assume that Krugman hasn’t chosen (again) to carry water for the Administration, that he really hasn’t bothered checking what Joe Stiglitz, Dean Baker, the Electronic Freedom Foundation have said about the regulations-gutting and egregious intellectual property strengthening elements of this proposed deal, and that he also missed the two sets of Wikileaks releases. In other words, he really does see this as yet another “free trade” deal, and just dialed his response in.
But the intriguing bit is that irrespective of your view on the genesis of the Krugman piece, it landed like a lead balloon with his readers. As a Congressional staffer said by email: “His commenters are eating him alive.” And that’s not an exaggeration. Of 60 comments on the post as of this hour, not a single one supported Krugman’s position. Some examples:
Astonishing, that Prof. Krugman has evidently missed, or simply chooses to ignore, the actual objections to TPP.
Free trade agreements, which do little to promote “free trade”, but which secure investors’ “rights” across national boundaries, supplanting local law, have been denounced by democracy advocates for years .
Where was Prof. Krugman?
As others have noted, Krugman seems to be assuming that free trade agreements are about free trade, when they tend to be massively complex legal documents with fine print that no one voting on it is actually going to read.
And you know, what if a nation’s “comparative advantage” is in lax labor and environmental laws? Do you still favor “free trade”?
How can you address whether the TPP is a “big deal” without considering the investor-state dispute settlement – a provision which is currently allowing Philip Morris Asia to sue Australia for their pro-health, evidence-based tobacco packaging regulations? Or the fact that the TPP aims to lock in current intellectual property laws at the same time that Congress is considering copyright reform? Or the fact that no one in the public actually knows all the details, since there has never been any official text released?
Krugman is right about one thing – the “free trade” aspects of the agreement are minimal. But he totally misses that there are about two dozen other chapters in the agreement that are in fact important.
Krugman is really missing the ball here. The problem is not with “trade”. The problem is with the attempted undermining of environmental protections, extension of “intellectual property rights” which will increase pharmaceutical drug prices worldwide and even make patents possible on surgical techniques, etc. He seems peculiarly ill-informed. Gosh. Has he looked at what is in the wikileaks notes?
The problems are real and they are massive.
Educate yourself, Mr. Krugman.
Krugman’s readers are a loyal bunch (which makes sense: why would anyone regularly read someone not of their liking?). And they are mainly polite in their disagreement.
But consider what this says:
The Democrat/orthodox propaganda machine may be breaking down. The TransPacific Partnership negotiations have not gotten much coverage in the mainstream media, and to the extent it has, it’s tended to support the Administration party line, witness editorials in the New York Times and Bloomberg supporting its passage, as well as reassuring Washington Post blog overviews. Yet Krugman’s readership overwhelmingly had gotten word about the bad features of the pending pact and are correctly worried. They are also clear that they have a better handle on the stakes than Krugman evidenced in his remarks.
Now one robin does not make a spring, but this reaction suggests that more and more politically engaged media consumers are not merely foraging beyond mainstream outlets but are less and less inclined to regard respected media brands and important validators as reliable, that more people (whether consciously or not) are digesting information from more and more sources and coming to their own point of view.
Another stunning part of the unanimity among the comments on Krugman’s piece: where were the Obots or the free trade defenders? As readers noted on my post yesterday, free trade stalwarts had shown up in comments on an earlier TPP piece and had their ears boxed by the NC commentariat. Was the absence of the usual status quo defenders a sign of battle fatigue, or merely that this was a fight they weren’t bothering to engage?
But if the hypothesis above is correct, it follows that not just for Krugman, but even more so those whose role is running interference for America’s plutocrats and their political lackeys, the tide is starting to turn against them. They must up their game to maintain their former degree of impact. That means they will have to shift the hackery-to-information ratio further in the direction of information. That won’t be easy given how many dubious causes they have to tout these days.
But there is a third possible implication: Krugman and the policy elites may be so isolated that they don’t recognize the rubes are starting to figure out who is really on their side. We’ve remarked off and on about the various signs that the people at the top of the food chain and Beltway power players simply have no idea what is happening to most Americans. Their friends and colleagues are doing well, or at least not badly. Washington has the stink of prosperity and the tonier parts of New York look flush. And too many of them don’t circulate much beyond those two cities.
So I trust that (if the professor deigns to read my work at all), Krugman regards talk of this sort as a wake-up call. It would be nice to see him abandon his misguided fealty to Team Dem and join the reality-based community. Sadly, his personal loyalties appear to be more important.