Paul Krugman Attacks "Libertarian Populism," Ignores What Libertarian Populists Actually Say

The New York Times columnist misses the point.


Paul Krugman has a column today criticizing "libertarian populism." If you're not familiar with that phrase, the main idea is a politics that attacks the alliance between big government and big business—essentially, a small-government alternative to the economy of subsidies, favors, and bailouts. As Krugman's colleague Ross Douthat defined it last month, it's "a strain of thought that moves from the standard grassroots conservative view of Washington as an inherently corrupt realm of special interests and self-dealing elites to a broader skepticism of 'bigness' in all its forms (corporate as well as governmental), that regards the Bush era as an object lesson in everything that can go wrong (at home and abroad) when conservatives set aside this skepticism, and that sees the cause of limited government as a means not only to safeguarding liberty, but to unwinding webs of privilege and rent-seeking and enabling true equality of opportunity as well."

This generally takes the form of wanting to roll back corporate power by rolling back state power. But some libertarian populists are willing to flirt with forms of anti-corporate intervention by the state, as long as the new law is aimed at undoing the effects of prior laws—Timothy Carney, for example, has endorsed the idea of breaking up big banks.

You might be interested in how Krugman approaches his critique. Does he argue that such ideas are not the best alternative to the state-corporate partnership? Perhaps he suggests that the alliance between government and business is, on balance, a good thing? Maybe he denies that the corporate state exists?

Ha! Fooled you. Krugman doesn't discuss the links between government and business at all. Somehow he manages to write a column about libertarian populism without once mentioning the central idea of libertarian populism. Seriously. Go read it and marvel.