A Letter to Dr. Paul Krugman: Dare to Be Great — or At Least Don’t Get in the Way!


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Nobel Prize-winning Economist Paul Krugman, professor of international trade and economics at Princeton University, pauses during a Bloomberg Television interview in New York, U.S., on Monday, Jan. 28, 2013. Krugman discussed the performance of bonds, Fed monetary policy, and the U.S. economy compared with that of Japan. Photographer: Scott Eells/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Nobel Prize-winning Economist Paul Krugman, pissing off the angel over his shoulder.

Let’s quote from the good Professor — and, in between each paragraph, take apart Professor Paul Krugman’s argument from his Monday New York Times column:

Health reform is the signature achievement of the Obama presidency. It was the biggest expansion of the social safety net since Medicare was established in the 1960s. It more or less achieves a goal — access to health insurance for all Americans — that progressives have been trying to reach for three generations. And it is already producing dramatic results, with the percentage of uninsured Americans falling to record lows.

It’s not “more or less.” It certainly isn’t “more” — people can still face medical bankruptcies and denial of critical services under Obamacare. In fact, we know how much “less” it is — it’s about 29 million uninsured Americans less than the goal. Obama does get great credit for getting us a life-saving, misery reducing, “half a loaf” — but part of that credit comes from the fact that it could open the door to our getting a FULL loaf. If Bernie can create a “political revolution” this year, then there’s no law of physics or political science that says that we can’t complete the job much earlier than most people had thought. Fortune favors the bold!

But single-payer wasn’t a politically feasible goal in America, for three big reasons that aren’t going away.

YES BUT: “America” in 2017 will clearly be politically different from “America” in 2009 if, in the meantime, Bernie has won. Let’s consider each on its merits:

First, like it or not, incumbent players have a lot of power. Private insurers played a major part in killing health reform in the early 1990s, so this time around reformers went for a system that preserved their role and gave them plenty of new business.

If Bernie wins in November, those “incumbent players” will have been shown to have much less power than they imagined they do. At a minimum, to maintain their “profit center,” they might be willing to toss a few more slices from their loaf into our basket. Each concession that they make saves lives and protects families.

Second, single-payer would require a lot of additional tax revenue — and we would be talking about taxes on the middle class, not just the wealthy. It’s true that higher taxes would be offset by a sharp reduction or even elimination of private insurance premiums, but it would be difficult to make that case to the broad public, especially given the chorus of misinformation you know would dominate the airwaves.

Come help us fight that misinformation, Professor! There’s no law saying that Americans must be easily fooled. If Obamacare left families totally vulnerable and NO Obamacare leaves then less vulnerable but still costs them $12,000 per year in premiums, co-pays, deductibles, and other fees (not to mention untreated medical conditions), then then can probably understand that an IMPROVED Obamacare system, which only costs them $5,000 in taxes with zero premiums and co-pays, is better for them. In fact, they can probably even calculate that it is $7,000 better for them! You don’t have to be a Princeton economist to do basic math!

Finally, and I suspect most important, switching to single-payer would impose a lot of disruption on tens of millions of families who currently have good coverage through their employers. You might say that they would end up just as well off, and it might well be true for most people — although not those with especially good policies. But getting voters to believe that would be a very steep climb.

So did Obamacare — but it was still worth it to end the costs and suffering of widespread, and emergency-room-smothering, under-insurance.  Yes, workers will need to bargain to get back some or all of the extra money that their employers would no longer need to spend due to “Medicare for All.” They said the same thing about Obamacare, and it was true then too — but what this does is strengthen the Labor movement if employers try to hold on to all of the cost savings from a new system. You like employees collectively bargaining for more benefits, right?

Prof. Krugman, you’re a good man — and you have often been a brave advocate for sanity, for people’s rights, and for the common good. But please consider the possibility that maybe people ARE more angry and ARE more desperate than you can see from Princeton — and that they are ready for what is still, by the standards of the rest of the developed world, a relatively modest reform.

As a brilliant economist, you know that both the micro- and macro-economics of Medicare for All IS better that Obamacare’s. And as an honest man you will concede, even if Hillary won’t, that if Bernie tries and fails to get greater reform, Obamacare will remain there — with a vote to repeal it coming along every month or so. This is about politics and psychology and sociology — which are not your areas of expertise. You don’t have to agree — but don’t plant yourself so firmly in the path of progress to help out your peers.

You’ve been willing to admit being wrong before, as when you were a strong and slashing advocate of NAFTA over the objections of people like Bernie Sanders.  You know that you’re not omniscient — so have the humility to doubt that what you see as politically impossible really ISN’T.

After all, you never expected Bernie to get even THIS far, did you?


About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose worker's rights and government accountability attorney, residing in northwest Brea. General Counsel of CATER, the Coalition of Anaheim Taxpayers for Economic Responsibility, a non-partisan group of people sick of local corruption. Deposed as Northern Vice Chair of DPOC in April 2014 when his anti-corruption and pro-consumer work in Anaheim infuriated the Building Trades and Teamsters in spring 2014, who then worked with the lawless and power-mad DPOC Chair to eliminate his internal oversight. Occasionally runs for office to challenge some nasty incumbent who would otherwise run unopposed. (Someday he might pick a fight with the intent to win rather than just dent someone. You'll know it when you see it.) He got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012 and in 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002. None of his pre-putsch writings ever spoke for the Democratic Party at the local, county, state, national, or galactic level, nor do they now. A family member co-owns a business offering campaign treasurer services to Democratic candidates and the odd independent. He is very proud of her. He doesn't directly profit from her work and it doesn't affect his coverage. (He does not always favor her clients, though she might hesitate to take one that he truly hated.) He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)