5 Best Monday Columns

Paul Krugman on Republican extremism, Robert Samuelson on the debt wake-up, and more

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  • Robert Samuelson on America's Economic Self-Deception  "Wake up, America," urges the Washington Post columnist, chiding Americans for avoiding "a realistic debate" about the desirable role of government. For Samuelson, the problem is all too obvious: "The lack of seriousness is defined by three missing words: 'balance the budget.' These words are taboo." Americans need to learn the lessons of the European financial experience. "Though financial markets may condone lax government borrowing for years, confidence can shatter unexpectedly. Lenders retreat or insist on punishing interest rates. Market pressures then impel harsh austerity -- benefit cuts or tax increases -- far more brutal than anything governments would have needed to do on their own. We are, by inaction and self-deception, tempting that fate."
  • Paul Krugman on Going to Extreme  Departing from his usual brand of meticulous economic analysis, the New York Times columnist sets his sights on the veins of extremism permeating the Republican Party. Krugman offers two hypotheses: first, that "Republican extremism was there all along — what’s changed is the willingness of the news media to acknowledge it," and second, that "to the extent that the power of the party’s extremists really is on the rise, it’s the economy, stupid." There may be light at the end of the tunnel for those exhausted by the constant media focus on Tea Party rallies. "Over the near term, a lot will depend on economic recovery. If the economy continues to add jobs, we can expect some of the air to go out of the Tea Party movement," writes Krugman. "But don’t expect extremists to lose their grip on the G.O.P. anytime soon."
  • Ross Douthat on the Great Consolidation  Looking past the "anti-establishment theatrics" of the Tea Party movement, Douthat discerns the real transformation at work in the United States. "From Washington to Athens, the economic crisis is producing consolidation rather than revolution, the entrenchment of authority rather than its diffusion, and the concentration of power in the hands of the same elite that presided over the disasters in the first place," writes Douthat, examining consolidation in American society from the economy to national security. "This is the perverse logic of meritocracy. Once a system grows sufficiently complex, it doesn’t matter how badly our best and brightest foul things up. Every crisis increases their authority, because they seem to be the only ones who understand the system well enough to fix it."

  • Fred Barnes on the Special Relationship  Barnes, executive editor of The Weekly Standard, argues in that publication that if Barack Obama and David Cameron permit the atrophy of the "special relationship"--the term, coined by Churchill, for a certain Anglo-American bond of intimacy and mutual support--they do so to the detriment of both countries. "The president has to play the bigger role" in reversing this drift, Barnes declares. "If he looks at Afghanistan, where Britain has 10,000 troops, and at every other trouble spot, he’ll notice that one country is invariably on America’s side. He shouldn’t be surprised who it is."
  • Jeffrey Toobin on Obama's Supreme Court Grapple  In a column for The New Yorker, Toobin draws a number of illustrative parallels between Franklin Roosevelt and Barack Obama, and each man's troubled relationship with the Supreme Court. Toobin lists some of the ways in which the conservative wing of the court may yet seek to neutralize Obama's policy initiatives, including health care reform and financial regulation. Still, as Toobin wryly notes, there are no innocents in this battle: "neither side is as concerned with abstract concepts like activism and restraint as it is with winning."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.