After weeks of downplaying the severity of the coronavirus pandemic and calling it a “hoax,” President Donald Trump has finally changed his tone — declaring coronavirus to be a national emergency and joining Democrats in calling for aggressive social distancing. But liberal economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman — who was warning about the dangers of coronavirus when Trump still considered it a “hoax” — is not impressed. Trump’s overall response to the pandemic, Krugman asserts in his column, has been “catastrophically inadequate” from both a health standpoint and an economic standpoint. And as Krugman sees it, the real leaders in the United States this week have been House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell.
“At every stage,” Krugman writes, “Donald Trump minimized the threat and blocked helpful action because he wanted to look good for the next news cycle or two, ignoring and intimidating anyone who tried to give him good advice.”
But even before the Covid-19 strain of coronavirus emerged, Krugman adds, Trump did things that have made it harder for the U.S. to cope with a pandemic — most notably, Trump “disbanded the National Security Council’s pandemic response team in 2018.” And Trump, according to Krugman, has “staffed his administration with obsequious toadies who never tell him anything he doesn’t want to hear.”
“Serious economic thinking has effectively been banned from this administration, if not the whole Republican Party,” Krugman laments. “As far as I can tell, the Trump team is utterly incapable of formulating a coherent response to the gathering economic crisis.”
At this point, Krugman asserts, the only sources of “intelligent economic policymaking left in Washington” are “the Federal Reserve” and “the congressional Democratic leadership.”
“Powell, of course, slashed interest rates and announced a large asset-buying program on Sunday,” Krugman observes. “He was right to do so. But it’s painfully obvious that these moves won’t be sufficient — indeed, will probably do little to stop the economy’s tailspin. Remember: in 2007-8, the Fed cut rates five times as much as it did Sunday, and it still wasn’t able to prevent the worst slump since the Great Depression.”
Although Krugman applauds Pelosi’s economic stimulus bill — which the Democrat-controlled U.S. House of Representatives has passed — he stresses that even more stimulus will be needed from Congress, and it should “focus overwhelmingly on cash grants, perhaps a basic grant to every legal resident — plus additional grants to those in special need.”
“I admit to being somewhat worried that Democrats won’t go big enough, but my bigger worry is that Republicans will undermine their efforts,” Krugman writes. “It’s now up to Powell and Pelosi to rescue the economy, and Trump and company need to get out of their way.”