So BloombergTV had a segment they billed as "Paul vs. Paul" with Republican congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul discussing the economy with Nobel laureate economist Paul Krugman. Honestly, there was no major revelations in the segment, so it was hard to find anything clip-worthy about it. We've heard Ron Paul's libertarian-based economic philosophy before and we've heard Krugman's Keynesian arguments as well. Even right-leaning Business Insider found it a yawn:
- Naturally, the two of them didn't agree on virtually anything and mostly talked past each other.
- Ron Paul said his goal wasn't to end the Fed, but to create competing currencies. Basically he wants to end the Fed's monopoly.
- Krugman says that in the modern era, there's no separating the government from monetary policy. And Krugman denied that he's somehow anti-markets or anti-capitalism. But he says, depressions are bad things, and that they're bad for capitalism if we don't intervene to fix them.
- Paul says the worst problem in the economy is the debt because we're wasting all of our money paying off the debt.
- Krugman says trying austerity to cut the debt only makes the debt worse.
In the end, it was mainly two guys who were talking so far past each other, there wasn't much of a "debate." Think: Two boxers standing in the far corners of the ring: Nobody lands a blow.
But that's the problem, isn't it? Not that necessarily there needed to be a knockout between these two, but it would have been nice to have some sort of clear conclusion, some consensus on a more persuasive side. That's the definition of a debate. But now the media's notions of debate have degenerated to two completely different ideologies "talking...past each other," operating from completely different sets of facts.
How are Americans supposed to make sense of this? How can they evaluate the rightness or wrongness of either's position and then exercise their voice through a vote? Facts should not be partisan. It is a sign of a vibrant democracy when we can debate solutions to problems, but we can't get to that point because we can't even agree on what is the problem. Krugman agrees:
I think it’s a perfect illustration of a point I’ve thought about a lot, the uselessness of face-to-face debates.
Think about it: you approach what is, in the end, a somewhat technical subject in a format in which no data can be presented, in which there’s no opportunity to check facts (everything Paul said about growth after World War II was wrong, but who will ever call him on it?). So people react based on their prejudices. If Ron Paul got on TV and said “Gah gah goo goo debasement! theft!” — which is a rough summary of what he actually did say — his supporters would say that he won the debate hands down; I don’t think my supporters are quite the same, but opinions may differ.
Obviously, I agree more with Krugman's economic points than Paul's. I think there is historical evidence to back up his assertions, whereas I've yet to see anyone build a truly libertarian economy outside of a theoretical vacuum. But moreover, Paul just gets facts wrong in justifying his odd "The-Fed-is-terrible-but-I-don't-want-to-totally-get-rid-of-the-Fed" goldbug economic mandate, which is the drumbeat he's employed for years with little notice from either party.
We have big problems in this country. Global warming, equality for women, LGBTs and people of color, economic disparity, education, judicial issues. The list is long. But we can't even find our way to them because of the biggest problem: the notion that facts can be dismissed as partisan bias and the elected representatives of this country operating from completely separate and dissociated realities.