When Paul Krugman was on vacation in late April and the first half of May, he actually acted like he was on vacation; the liberal economist and New York Times columnist didn’t do much tweeting, and there was a two-week gap between columns. But Krugman had a lot to talk about after he returned from vacation, including the mass shooting at a Buffalo, New York supermarket on Saturday, May 14.
In his first post-vacation column, published on May 16, Krugman has two observations about the American right: (1) “voodoo economics” is still a failure, and (2) at least the Reagan Republicans who promoted “voodoo economics” during the 1980s didn’t encourage violence.
Back in the days when Madonna, Prince, Duran Duran and Run-D.M.C. reigned supreme, President Ronald Reagan’s economic policy was described as both “trickle-down economics” and “voodoo economics.” Reagan and his allies believed that when millionaires and billionaires are given major tax cuts and become even more prosperous, they inevitably share their economics gains with the middle class and the poor — a school of economic thought that Krugman rejected when he was younger and still rejects in 2022.
Krugman writes, “It was shocking, at the time, when a crank economic doctrine — the claim that tax cuts pay for themselves — became, in effect, the official Republican party line…. And voodoo economics continues to do real damage to this day. The Republicans who control Mississippi, a poor state with desperately underfunded educational programs that’s closing hospitals, recently moved to boost the state’s economy by cutting taxes. As far as I know, however, diatribes about the evils of high marginal tax rates haven’t inspired any acts of domestic terrorism.”
Law enforcement officials believe that the May 14 shooter in Buffalo was inspired by far-right white nationalist doctrine and the racist conspiracy theory known as the Great Replacement. The deadly attack was carried out in a heavily Black area of Buffalo, and most of the people shot were African-American.
“As has been widely reported, the suspect accused of fatally shooting 10 people in Buffalo is a devotee of ‘Replacement theory,’ which claims that sinister elites — especially Jews, of course — are deliberately bringing in immigrants to displace and disempower White Americans,” Krugman explains. “So were the men charged with massacres at a Pittsburgh synagogue in 2018 and an El Paso Walmart in 2019.”
Krugman continues, “Replacement theory used to be a fringe doctrine, but these days, in at best thinly disguised form, it is attracting significant mainstream support within the GOP. And this mainstream acceptance helps it spread. As The Times has documented, Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show has amplified the doctrine more than 400 times.”
The Great Replacement theory, Krugman notes, has also been promoted by well-known Republicans ranging from Rep. Elise Stefanik to “Hillbilly Elegy” author J.D. Vance, the GOP nominee in Ohio’s 2022 U.S. Senate race.
The “paranoid style,” according to Krugman, has been “taking over the Republican Party,” including “Republican elites” — who “used to push back against conspiracy theories but now cheerfully embrace them whenever it seems politically expedient.”
Krugman explains, “The rise of supply-side economics coincided with the rise of movement conservatism — an interlocking network of elected officials, media organizations, think tanks and lobbying firms…. Who was attracted to this movement? Many were careerists: people happy to serve as apparatchiks, following whatever the party line happened to be at the moment. They may have signed up to promote low taxes and a weaker safety net, but most of the party immediately went MAGA when the winds shifted.”
The columnist cites Vance and one-time “Paul Ryan protégé” Stefanik as examples of former Trump critics in the GOP who flip flopped and “went MAGA” because it was expedient.
“What we now know is that the embrace of crank economics presaged the general moral collapse of the Republican establishment,” Krugman observes. “This collapse opened the door for paranoia and conspiracy theorists of all kinds — and the consequences have been deadly. There is, I would argue, a direct line from the Laffer curve, to January 6, (2021) to Buffalo.”