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Saturday, January 16, 2010

Clash Of The Titans

Krugman vs Glennzilla. I don't know whether to make popcorn or cry. They are debating the case of Jonathan Gruber who is a top health economist and comments publicly on health policy and also had a contract to do micro-simulations for HHS.
They are also two of my favorite bloggers and two of the people whose intellect and integrity I respect most.

Oddly there doesn't seem to be anything odd about their clash. Each is very opinionated, of course. The debate is one aspect of the split of the US leftmore 60% which was briefly united by Bush (has anyone done more for the world left in the past 3 decades ?). Now there is a split between those, like Krugman, who say let Nelson and Lieberman have their way if that's what it takes to get the huge advnantages of the Senate health care bill and those who say it is better to block this bill in hope of a better one (it is not clear if that means this month, this year or this decade).

The specific case is ambiguous. Gruber's contract is not like Armstrong William's contract as noted by Krugman. It is also not exactly like an NSF grant. It is a very good thing that Gruber has shared his expertise with HHS in the form of simulations which would make your eyes glaze over, and with the public in the form of commentary on the strengths and weaknesses of cost control measures in various bills and draft bills. I should say that back when I was a 4th year graduate student and he was a 3rd year graduate student Prof. Gruber helped me find data I needed for my dissertation. Oh and I gave $50 to the fund to pay Marcy Wheeler to blog (in this case denouncing the HHS contract). Oh and you know I mention that when I complain to Firedogs.

I think there are a number of reasons for the fierce disagreement.
1) Attitudes towards the Obama administration
2) Lawyers vs economists
3) Friends of Firedoglake vs friends of Jonathan Gruber
4) Attitudes towards compromise.

1) Greenwald mainly discusses civil liberties, defendants rights and habeus corpus. Krugman discusses economic policy. Krugman thinks the Obama administration has been too centrist and much too determined to try to compromise with Republicans. Greenwald thinks they are guilty of grossly violating human rights. In the field of dealing with detainees, the Obama administration has actively done things which Antonin Scalia never dreamed of. I personally share Krugman and Greenwald's views on both sets of issues and feel very differently about the two sets of issues. Different focus based on different expertise seems to have lead to a different general sense of whether to trust the Obama administration a little or not.

2) Krugman and Gruber are economists. They are used to obtaining NSF grants without feeling compromised. Wheeler and Greenwald are lawyers. They are used to dealing with cases in which the amount of money which can legitimately change hands is zero. I think that Krugman is confident that HHS paid Gruber because they felt they needed to know what he could tell them and not to influence his writing for the public. I'm sure he has the sense that Gruber's work is worky work unlike Krugman's own (or mine such as it is). Krugman sure wouldn't do it for the money, so he doesn't see the money as a bribe.

3) this is obvious. I think that Krugman stands up for fellow not rightwing loony economists. Greenwald has certainly made strange arguments in defence of Firedoglake's position on health care reform (see a post below).

4) Neither is a fan of compromise, but Greenwald is very focused on issues in which no compromise is possible. He explicitly states that the struggle against money in politics is fought on a slippery slope.

Here on issue is that Krugman's focus is on, among other things, policy less favorable to the very rich at the expense of everyone else and the public is ovwerwhelmingly on his side, while Greenwald wants the 4th through 8th amendments to be obeyed and a majority of the US public don't. So Krugman may have more of a general sense that an inch which was given can be taken back soon.

1 comment:

Hans Suter said...

here's the winning argument (by Brad DeLong):The way Jon should have been introduced over the past year was as "Massachusetts Romney plan architect..."