A fascinating ideological battle is being waged before our eyes on the op-ed pages of the New York Times. The battle is between David Brooks and Paul Krugman and it has everything to do with America's economic and social future and what budget course is most likely to be supportive of this country's long-term growth.
Not surprisingly, Brooks is an unabashed admirer of Congressman Paul Ryan and his belief that slashing the federal budget while maintaining tax breaks for the rich is the only way to ensure long-term economic growth. Brooks has called Ryan smart, courageous, admirable, and genial, but especially courageous for taking on the Washington D.C. bureaucracy's addiction to what he feels is unsustainable deficit-spending. To be fair, incidentally, Brooks also admires Obama for possessing many of the same personal qualities as Ryan.
Paul Krugman, on the other hand, remains a reluctant supporter of Obama and a no-holds-barred critic of Ryan. He derides the claim that Ryan is a courageous and "SERIOUS" legislator and has referred to his budget plan as a "sick joke." He also calls Ryan's cuts "savage" and insists that the supposed cost savings are "pure fantasy."
So, how do we make a judgment about who to believe? Who makes the better case? At first blush, it seems to be Brooks because he tries so hard to be balanced (praising both Ryan and Obama) and temperate (avoiding Krugman's harsh rhetoric). Brooks must be right, it at first appears, because, well, because he comes across as so reasonable. So score one for Brooks...maybe.
But take a good look at their respective columns today. Brooks employs large strokes and big claims that are based largely on various people's opinions. Krugman, on the hand, being the skilled progressive economist that he is, relies on specific budget data to make his case. Check out what he says about Mr. Ryan's 200 billion dollar error in his own budget proposal or the ways in which Ryan distorts the current prescription drug benefit that is part of Medicare. Or notice how Krugman attacks the Medicare Advantage Program that is strikingly similar to what Republicans propose and yet costs 12 percent more per person than traditional Medicare.
In the end, Krugman develops and backs up an argument against Ryan's proposal, whereas Brooks largely bases his support for Ryan's proposals on what he thinks is Ryan's outstanding character. Brooks trusts Ryan's figures because he's a good guy, but Krugman does an analysis of those figures and demonstrates how much they are wanting. Sure, Krugman is a little harsher in his characterizations, but it's pretty obvious to me that the pundit we should be relying on in establishing the course for the future is Krugman, not David Brooks, for all his good intentions.