avatar
THE HACK STRIKES AGAIN!: KRUGMAN ON NADER


Edward S. Herman

In

his op-ed column of July 23rd entitled "Saints and Profits," Paul

Krugman shows once again why the New York Times put him on as a regular

(for a more extended discussion, see my "Krugman On Economists As Hacks:

Or, ‘Mirror Mirror on the Wall’," Z Magazine, June, 2000). The

editors don’t like Ralph Nader and want him to disappear, and while the paper

denies him access and prevents him from raising serious issues, the editors and

columnists attack him on a regular basis. Krugman has now joined this throng,

and it is almost eerie to see how his performance is increasingly hard to

distinguish from that of Thomas Friedman. Having to write two columns a week,

Krugman has long run out of anything to say based on his own knowledge, and as

he shares Friedman’s glibness, establishment biases, and willingness to misuse

evidence, it would be easy to mistake the one for the other.

In

this anti-Nader tirade Krugman hits a new low, using a number of tired put-downs

and smear tricks, but most importantly making charges against Nader that are,

without a single exception, irresponsible distortions. Before analyzing the

specific charges, let me discuss briefly his smear tricks and his general

analysis of Nader’s alleged evolution from reasonable reformer to anti-corporate

extremist.

On

the smear tactics, Krugman uses several: first, he suggests that Nader, the

purported "saint," suffers from "monomania" and "the

urge to sacrifice the good in pursuit of the perfect. In other words, beware the

cause of the rebel without a life." But Krugman never shows that Nader is

looking for perfection rather than the correction of serious ills, and neither

does he provide any evidence that Nader doesn’t have "a life." Can you

imagine Krugman castigating a hardworking businessman, who spends most of his

waking hours pursuing the bottom line, by suggesting that he is not to be

trusted because he is "without a life"?

Krugman

of course can’t resist mentioning that Nader has assets, just as the Times,

while systematically ignoring Nader’s discussion of real issues, found space for

publicizing that "Nader Reports Big Portfolio In Technology" (June 19,

2000). These assets suggest to Krugman that Nader’s lifestyle "might not be

quite as austere as it seems"–which Krugman makes sound a bit sinister,

but would seem to contradict Krugman explanation of monomania in terms of the

absence of "a life."

More

important, Krugman informs us that more menacing than Nader’s possible vices are

his virtues–"and his determination to impose those virtues on the rest of

us." Krugman does not expand on how this "imposition" is to be

implemented and how it differs from his own policy pitches, or how it compares

with the business community’s lobbying for NAFTA, the WTO, or legislation in

general. At the time of the NAFTA debate, Krugman himself contended that one of

the merits of the agreement was that it would "lock in" Mexico to free

trade. Now there is imposition for you, but as it is something Krugman favors it

is positively desirable. Nader wants laws and institutional changes that Krugman

doesn’t like, so he threatens "imposition." (In a nice touch of

demagoguery, later in his article Krugman notes that Nader says he wouldn’t

rehire Alan Greenspan but would "reeducate" him; which Krugman

mentions presumably because of the connotation of "reeducation camps"

and the Gulag!) A Gore and Bush supporting the military-industrial complex, or

Clinton pushing for NAFTA, aren’t imposing anything; but Ralph Nader threatens

to do so. In short, Krugman descends here to laughable drivel.

Krugman

makes Nader out to be an "extremist" because he has allegedly moved

from his earlier practical reformism and concern for consumers to a

"general hostility toward corporations." An alternative interpretation

is that Nader has broadened and deepened his concerns and analysis; he now sees

more clearly that the corporate system has deep flaws that need to be addressed.

Krugman, on the other hand, considers the corporate system quite sound and the

political system working well. Anybody that disagrees is by definition an

extremist.

Krugman

says that Japan might be better off if it had "shared our healthy distrust

of the claims that what is good for General Motors is good for America."

But Krugman’s "healthy distrust" is nowhere evident in this or other

articles he has offered in the Times. On the trade policies that have

been key issues for him–and on which Nader’s opposition arouses his ire–Krugman

and the GM management see eye to eye and agree that what GM perceives to be good

for itself is "good for America." Furthermore, like GM’s management he

thinks the basic economic structure and existing liberal democracy is quite

sound. So if George W. Bush and Al Gore depend hugely on corporate money and

support all phases of the corporate trade program–and virtually all other

corporate policy demands–they like Krugman are not "extremists" based

on their "general acquiesce in a regime of corporate control," they

are moderates.

Let

me analyse briefly Krugman’s more specific statements about Nader, in the first

two I quote from letters to the New York Times that were refused

publication by the paper:

1.

Nader was against an African trade bill "removing barriers to Africa’s

exports–a move that Africans themselves welcomed" but which Nader opposed

because it would allow multinationals to run local economies into the ground.

Comment: Did all Africans welcome it? Is it not dishonest to fail to note that

the bill had features other than helping African exports, like forcing an

opening of markets and investments and even imposing budget restraints on the

African participants? An unpublished letter by Ms. Njoki Njoroge Njehu, Director

of the 50 Years Is Enough Network, pointed out that the bill was "dubbed

the African recolonization Act by African labor unions and non-governmental

organizations, and was widely opposed by civil society throughout the continent

[she names many of them]. In exchange for meagre trade benefits the AGOA

requires the U.S. president to annually certify that an African nation is

complying with the arduous list of conditions only imposed by the U.S. on

African countries. These conditions include cuts in domestic spending on health

and education and intellectual property rules that would undercut AIDS treatment

and prevention."

2.

Nader "condemned South Africa’s new Constitution, the one that ended

apartheid, because–like the laws of every market economy–it grants

corporations some legal status as individuals." Comment: As an unpublished

letter from South Africa by Patrick Bond, Darlene Miller, and Langa Zita pointed

out, "At our behest, four years ago, Mr. Nader urged revision of a

particular provision only, which grants corporations the same bill of rights

protection as real persons (not just ‘some legal status as individuals,’ as Mr.

Krugman writes). From Mr. Nader, South Africans learned how similar protections

in the United States–not embedded in the U.S. Constitution,

incidentally–undermine efforts to control tobacco advertising and restrict

corporate campaign contributions."

3.

Nader’s organization Public Citizen tried to block introduction of Pfizer’s drug

Feldene, which Krugman found useful in his own case of arthritis, despite the

"firm consensus among medical experts that the drug’s benefits outweighed

its risks." Comment: A letter by Dr. Sidney M. Wolfe, of the Public Citizen

Health Research Group, published on July 27, points out that "Our petition

to the FDA to ban the drug was prompted by eight published studies that compared

the risk of gastrointestinal bleeding, perforation or ulcers from Feldene and as

many as seven other similar drugs. Of drugs available in the U.S., in four of

the eight studies, Feldene had the highest risk of these severe gastrointestinal

adverse effects; in three studies, Feldene had the second highest risk; and in

one study, the third highest risk. Largely because of this widely acknowledged

toxicity, the use of Feldene has fallen to a fraction of what it was earlier.

Since our book, Worst Pills, Best Pills lists many safer, equally effective

alternatives to Feldene, his theory that the ban reflects part of the ‘general

hostility to corporations’ seems especially fatuous…."

4.

After the Columbine school shootings, Nader wrote an article "attributing

these same shootings to–I’m serious–corporate influence." Comment:

Nader’s public statement of April 30, 1999 did not speak of "corporate

influence" in general, it referred to the fact that the commercial

corporate culture that dominates the media, in the search for ever larger

audiences, has featured "ever more blatant displays of violence, sex,

crassness, and nihilism in television, cable, movies, radio, video games and

music." Nader didn’t even mention the gun industry’s efforts to market its

product, which would reinforce the case for "corporate influence." But

what he says about the commercial media’s preference for violence and its

deleterious effects is widely accepted and has been vindicated in research

studies by Dr. George Gerbner and others. Krugman builds his case on a

misleading caricature.

5.

Nader’s and his organizations’ work "seem to have less and less to do with

his original humane goals." Comment: This statement is surely based on the

ignorance of a man who knows Nader has been attacking his precious "free

trade" but can’t be bothered to check out the facts on what he and his

organizations actually do. Readers of Public Citizen and other Nader-related

publications know that the reach of their interests is wider than ever, dealing

with numerous aspects of health, safety and environmental protection, government

as well as corporate accountability, campaign finance reform and civil rights as

well as trade, and that its humane goals remain intact.

What

an establishment spokesperson like Krugman cannot understand is that reaching

humane goals increasingly demands structural changes in the economy and

politics; that although he is prospering as a professional economist and Times

columnist, along with a national elite, for the majority this is not the best of

all possible worlds.  

Leave a comment