New York Times columnist Paul Krugman and Heritage Foundation economist Stephen Moore faced off in a much-heralded debate over economic policy at FreedomFest on Thursday. They discussed the 2008 stimulus, Obamacare, the minimum wage, and the reasons for economic growth in the 50 states—vehemently disagreeing with each other on most topics, though occasionally finding common ground.
Krugman was at his most persuasive when talking about Obamacare, which he called a "remarkably successful public policy" that brings the United States more in line with the cost-effective healthcare policies of European nations.
"Obamacare is working quite well," he said.
Moore admitted that he wasn't a healthcare expert, but proposed Lasik eye surgery as an example of a medical service that continues to become cheaper because government doesn't mandate insurance for the procedure and true competition is permitted.
On the subject of the minimum wage, Krugman admitted that he had changed his mind over the years—he once accepted the idea that the minimum wage caused unemployment, but the evidence no longer supports that conclusion, he said. Moore fared better here, insisting that minimum wage laws were particularly destructive to teenage employment levels. He asked whether Krugman would consider supporting a separate minimum wage for teenagers.
"What my research shows is [with the minimum wage] you get a reduction in the labor force participation rate of teenagers," said Moore. "This is a very sinister trend. Would you, Paul Krugman, support a teenage minimum wage?"
Krugman said he was willing to think about it.
Moore claimed that "red states," which have adopted more free-market policies, are performing better, economically speaking, than "blue states." Krugman disputed this characterization, claiming that land use policies and climate were more important factors, to which Moore replied, "You tell me people moving from San Diego to Houston are doing it because of the weather?"
Krugman also repeatedly rejected the notion that he is a big-government liberal, or a socialist.
"There are only certain times where you really need government intervention," he said.
Before today, I had only ever experienced Krugman via his acerbic, blithely partisan NYT columns. He was much more reasonable—and ultimately, persuasive—in person. Ultimately, the Krugman/Moore debate served as a good reminder that the important intellectual fight is between advocates of limited government intervention and advocates of moderate government intervention, not between advocates of limited government and advocates of all-encompassing government. Even Krugman, the left's most influential economics expert, is not a socialist.