This Guy Could Do Standup!

I rarely read Paul Krugman’s column, but today I did, because an old friend sent the latest one to me. I gotta tell ya, Krugman could do standup! Really, he’s a riot. Most economists can pass for undertakers, but not this fellow. He’s truly funny.

I know I should be kind to him, on grounds of collegiality toward a fellow economist, so I’m not going to go on and on about his stunningly sophomoric ideas on economics, income distribution, the Great Depression, how best to deal with business recessions, and so forth. Besides, I’d never earn a marksman’s medal for shooting a fish in a barrel.

But good golly, Miss Molly, here’s what he says in the column, in discussing the proposed “stimulus” plan the next administration hopes to get enacted into law soon after it takes office. “The biggest problem facing the Obama plan . . . is likely to be the demand of many politicians for proof that the benefits of the proposed public spending justify its costs—a burden of proof never imposed on proposals for tax cuts.”

Think about that statement; roll it around in your mind. Krugman worries that certain politicians may obstruct enactment of the stimulus plan by insisting on a demonstration that its benefits exceed its costs. Could anything be more unreasonable than such hidebound insistence that the government’s expenditures be shown to be worthwhile? That’s not the funny part, though.

The hilarious part is the appended phrase “a burden of proof never imposed on proposals for tax cuts.” Think about that one, if you can stop yourself from rolling around on the floor in laughter. Look, here’s the deal, Krugman is saying: these conservative fuddy-duddies insist that the government not spend the taxpayers’ money unless the spending passes a benefit/cost test. Pretty dumb, huh? But even dumber is that these hypocritical prigs never insist on such a test when they decide to suck a little less than they’ve been sucking out of the taxpayers’ bank accounts. Damned cheeky of these old fossils, eh?

Krugman obviously subscribes to the belief, immensely popular inside the beltway, that all the money rightfully belongs to the government, whether it is being considered for involuntary transfer from its private holders to the government or being considered for retention by the people who earned it in the first place. He wants anyone who proposes to allow such retention to bear a burden of benefit/cost proof. What a guy. I tell ya he slays me!

If only to regain my composure, I will mention a somewhat related idea I take seriously about who should bear the burden of proof. Consider the following proposition: a gang of armed people calling itself a government has a right to take money from and impose rules on people who are innocent of violating anyone’s just rights, employing violence and threats of violence against these unoffending people to get its way. My idea is that anyone who supports this proposition bears a heavy burden of proof—so heavy, indeed, that no one can bear it on the basis of logic, evidence, and a moral standard higher than a wolf’s.

I don’t expect Krugman, a plumed knight of the economics profession and a designated hatchet man for the goofy left, to bother trying to meet this challenge. Yet I wish he would do so. Watching his antics would be a barrel of laughs.

Robert Higgs is Senior Fellow in Political Economy at the Independent Institute, author or editor of over fourteen Independent books, and Editor at Large of Independent’s quarterly journal The Independent Review.
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