Wait, Maybe the Right Does Have Some Ideas!

The current debate about the budget usually goes something like this: The left says the right has no ideas (or at least no new ideas) and the right says the left has no good ideas (or at least no ideas that won't blow up the size of government). So here I go: I do think the right has some ideas, and I'd really love the smartest thinkers on the left to take them more seriously.

Here's Paul Krugman's most recent column on Republican vacuity. It's good, it's cogent, it's mostly right. It's also frustrating. He's accusing Republicans of refusing to have "serious discussions" about the budget. Then he identifies some Republican ideas and doesn't discuss them seriously.


Krugman is writing about the right's plans to reform entitlements. (It's important to understand throughout this that Krugman isn't as concerned about our deficits as a lot of other politicians and policy thinkers.) He criticizes the idea of putting a hard budget on Medicare (as Paul Ryan's plan would do) as an act of Republican hypocrisy. He is against means-testing entitlements, because he's afraid that making Social Security mainly a benefit for the poor will make it unpopular. These are technically defensible positions (Republicans are being hypocritical on Medicare cuts, and means-testing entitlements might erode their popularity). But let's agree that these are, in fact, "serious discussions" worth having. Putting entitlements on a tighter budget has left-of-center defenders. Focusing aid on those who need it most is a reasonable solution to cutting costs in an underfunded program.

Look, Krugman is under no contractual obligation to agree with anything Republicans say.  At the end of the day, my sense is he thinks entitlements don't need an overhaul as dramatic as others want. That's fine, and possibly even right. But it's frustrating to hear him say "the GOP has no solutions, the GOP has no solutions" and see him swat two serious solutions out of the air because he doesn't think the authors are being intellectually honest.

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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