As I've blogged before, I'm interested in what this election will do to Paul Krugman's career. Before Dubya took office, he was a really good economics columnist with a cult following. His fame and fortune have been built on his opposition to Our Fearless Leader; I doubt that most of his slavish followers would read him so devotedly if he did not lend the imprimatur of science to their ferocious hatred of George W. Bush.

After the election, of course, this all goes away. Even before then, however, the cracks are appearing. His campaign against Barack Obama has alienated a lot of people who used to applaud him, or at least refrain from voicing doubt about his more dubious forays into political commentary. Now all the sudden, the tactics that have been approved when deployed against George W. Bush are not okay. Mark Kleiman is only the latest example of a trend I've been noticing for a while:

Yesterday's Paul Krugman column quotes a study by Jonathan Gruber of MIT, which Krugman portrays as a critique of Barack Obama's health care proposal by comparison with Hillary Clinton's.

Mr. Gruber finds that a plan without mandates, broadly resembling the Obama plan, would cover 23 million of those currently uninsured, at a taxpayer cost of $102 billion per year. An otherwise identical plan with mandates would cover 45 million of the uninsured — essentially everyone — at a taxpayer cost of $124 billion.


Since the Clinton plan contains not even an outline of how the mandate is to be enforced, I was puzzled about how Gruber managed to do his estimate.

RBCer Harold Pollack, a credentialed expert on health policy, having taken the drastic step of reading the actual study, gives us the answer: Gruber's imagined Obama-like plan with a mandate achieves the feat of virtually universal coverage by ... assumption.

Gruber:

In particular I assume that 95% of those who would not voluntarily choose to insure are forced to insure through the mandate.


[emphasis added]

So the "finding" comes out of precisely nowhere. Of course if the mandate succeeds, it will increase coverage, with most of the cost coming from the people paying those mandatory premiums rather than the [other] taxpayers. But the claim that it will actually succeed is based on nothing but an assumption. And yet no reasonable reader of Krugman's column would understand that.



Welcome to the club. Would that we could get a coalition to banish silliness like this from all political discourse, not merely the kinds we don't like. And yes, I'm sure I don't do a very good job of criticizing people I agree with either.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.