GOP ‘war on poor’ just another myth


The New York Times’ Paul Krugman always is a little shrill in his defense of Keynesian economics and President Barack Obama. Civility has never been his strong suit.

But his latest column goes further than most in its harshness and ad hominem attacks. Declaring there’s a conservative “War on the Poor,” Krugman dismisses all legitimate policy disagreements and says the right just hates the poor.

“Republican hostility toward the poor and unfortunate has now reached such a fever pitch that the party doesn’t really stand for anything else — and only willfully blind observers can fail to see that reality,” Krugman writes. “The big question is why.”

That’s a logical fallacy — begging the question. The “big question” isn’t why Republicans are hostile to the poor. It’s whether they are.

The answer, of course, is that they’re not. They simply have different ideas on how to help the poor.

Let’s look at welfare, Krugman’s preferred method for assisting those in need. The evidence is clear that in many cases, welfare hurts the poor.

Take unemployment insurance. Krugman himself used to believe that too-generous unemployment benefits (lasting too long, for example) hurt the unemployed by providing a disincentive to find and keep a job.

Of course Republicans support some level of unemployment insurance, particularly during tough times such as the Great Recession. President George W. Bush extended benefits in 2008.

University of Chicago economist Professor Casey Mulligan studied the effect, and writes that “redistributive public policy depressed the labor market,” and “altered the composition of the work force in the direction of people who are married and more skilled.”

Krugman has changed his position, and now says unemployment benefits should be more generous.

In his recent column, he cited states (led by Republican governors) that won’t expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. He sees this as a hostile act toward the poor.

“Bear in mind that the federal government would pay for this expansion, and that the money thus spent would benefit hospitals and the local economy as well as the direct recipients,” he writes.

First, the federal government would only pay for the expansion at first. After a few years, the states will have to pick up the tab for the expanded program. Second. The money spent wouldn’t benefit hospitals or doctors because they’re likely losing money for every Medicaid patient they see. That’s why most doctors won’t accept new Medicaid patients.

“One consequence is that Medicaid recipients show up at emergency rooms at nearly double the rate of the privately insured, often with acute problems that could have been addressed earlier in a doctor’s office,” writes Jim Epstein for Reason magazine. “They’re also more likely than both the privately insured and the uninsured to have late-stage cancer at first diagnosis. After they’ve been diagnosed, it’s also difficult for Medicaid patients to find qualified surgeons who will treat them.”

Republican governors are clear that they think there are better ways to help the poor. There are, but that’s another editorial.

Krugman and those like him do a disservice to civil discourse.

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