Sen. Rand Paul Pushes Back Against Paul Krugman’s Blog Attacks
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman during a roundtable discussion on ABC’s “This Week” briefly debated whether President Barack Obama has increased the size of the government workforce.
“Are you arguing that there are fewer government employees under Obama than they were under Bush?” Sen. Paul asked.
“That’s a fact,” Krugman responded.
“No, the size of both — of government is enormous under President Obama.”
“If government employment had grown as fast under Obama as it did under Bush, we would have a million-and-a-half more people employed right now, directly.”
“Are there less people employed or more people employed by government?” Sen. Paul asked bluntly.
See the exchange [at the 03:34 mark]:
Unfortunately, they weren’t able to go into greater detail because New Jersey Mayor Cory Booker wanted to move the conversation in a different direction. But that’s fine — it’s what happened after the exchange that’s interesting.
As you can tell from the video, the question of President Obama’s expansion of the government workforce was abandoned and never fully examined. Nevertheless, Krugman wasted no time attacking the senator via his blog.
“Rand Paul seemed shocked at my claim that government employment is down under Obama. Of course, it is,” writes Krugman. “But maybe he’s thinking of the fact that since govt employment rose under Bush, we’re still at higher absolute levels than we were a decade ago.”
“That is, however, a strange comparison: other things equal, you’d expect government employment to grow with population (remember, the typical government employee is a schoolteacher),” he adds.
He then directs the reader’s attention to the following graph illustrating the decline in government employment per capita:
Later, after ThinkProgress published a copy of the “This Week” exchange, an emboldened Krugman decided to pop off yet another blog post attacking Sen. Paul.
“Aha. It seems that I was giving Rand Paul more credit than he deserved. Think Progress has the video, and it’s clear that Paul was completely shocked at the notion that government employment had fallen under Obama, rather than soaring,” Krugman writes.
He went on to explain why, he thinks, Sen. Paul just doesn’t get it:
How did that happen? Almost surely it’s a case of a zombie lie that has gone unchallenged in the hermetic world of movement conservatism, so that people like Paul know, just know, something that ain’t so. I wrote about this way back: the usual suspects seized on the Census bulge in employment as evidence of a big-government surge; and because nobody in that business ever admits having been wrong, this became a “fact” that people like Rand Paul believe. He wouldn’t have made this mistake if he ever read or listened to an analysis from nonpartisan sources, but he evidently doesn’t.
But you see, there’s a problem with Krugman’s original blog post (we’ll ignore his wholly unnecessary and adolescent victory lap): His claim that the government workforce has declined under President Obama only works if we combine federal with state and local employment numbers.
Why is this a problem for Krugman? Because the only workforce the Oval Office can expand, the only part of government it has the ability to grow and keep employed, is the federal workforce. State and local — which have indeed fallen — are more or less out of his reach.
And the federal workforce has grown.
“Professor Krugman argues statistics in his usual fashion: making them up or adding in irrelevant information to prove his predetermined point,” Sen. Paul said in a statement posted to his Facebook page, “he and I were debating the size of government workforce under President Obama. The only logical number we could have been discussing was the number of federal workers. Since the last time I checked, Barack Obama was the President, not a mayor or governor.”
As it turns out, there are more federal workers under President Obama then there were under President George W. Bush [the spike in hiring was for the census]:
“The number of federal employees has risen under President Obama. There were 2,790,000 federal workers in January 2009 when the president took office, and now there are 2,804,000 workers,” Michael R. Strain writes for the American Enterprise Institute.
“In only one month of Mr. Bush’s presidency was the federal workforce larger than it was during the month of Mr. Obama’s presidency when the federal workforce was at its smallest. With the exception of that one month, Mr. Obama’s minimum is larger than Mr. Bush’s maximum,” Strain adds.
Bottom line: When you combine state, local, and federal employment numbers, the public sector workforce has decreased dramatically. But Sen. Paul claims he was referring specifically to President Obama and the expansion of the federal workforce.
The only part of government that has decreased during the president’s first term is the part that’s largely out of his hands. And as for the part of the government workforce the White House can grow? That has increased.
“[P]rofessor Krugman added in local and state workers to inflate this number, an irrelevant point at best. In fact, it was a disingenuous argument, which he then astonishingly gloated about making on his blog,” Sen. Paul writes on his Facebook page.
But let’s be honest here: Krugman’s decision to lambaste Sen. Paul shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. After all, the Kentucky senator is not the only Paul in his family to have the Nobel Prize-winning economist write something cheap about him following a debate on policy and economic issues.
“I prefer to stick to the facts — and the facts are, there are 143,000 more federal workers since President Obama took office. I urge Professor Krugman to join me in debating actual, relevant statistics,” the senator added.
Do you think Krugman will take him up on the challenge?
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Front page photo source courtesy: Gage Skidmore / Flickr. This story has been updated.
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