Krugman Auditions

Everyone is buzzing about the New York Times Magazine cover story over the weekend about whether libertarians and libertarianism are ascendant.  And one of the busy bees buzzing the most is Paul Krugman, who is a libertarian denialist.

Here’s the killer taunt from his Monday column: “The answer is no.  And the reason can be summed up in one word: phosphorus.”

Seriously?  Is Krugman auditioning for a minor supporting role in a statist remake of The Graduate, in which phosphorus is substituted for plastic as the world-beating one-word advice for the ambitious?

Turns out Krugman has the recent phosphorus-related drinking water emergency in Toledo, Ohio, in his mind:

The states bordering Lake Erie banned or sharply limited phosphates in detergent long ago, temporarily bringing the lake back from the brink. But farming has so far evaded effective controls, so the lake is dying again, and it will take more government intervention to save it.

There’s a lot more to the story of cleaning up the Great Lakes than simply banning phosphates, and it’s not strictly true that farming is exempt from the Clean Water Act.  The complete story involves the simple fact that the EPA really can’t come up with a plausible regulatory regime for the diffuse nature of farm sector water pollution analogous to its discharge permit system for stationary source pollution from factories and waste-water treatment facilities.  And Congress under the control of both parties has not wanted to figure out this problem.

Krugman pooh-poohs the idea that common law remedies could possibly work, overlooking that several pre-Clean Water Act cases in the 1960s actually were starting to get results in the Great Lakes but were pre-empted and replaced by the regulatory regime that is ironically more friendly to industry than the courts often were.  (Say Mr. Krugman—do you have a permit for these bi-weekly emissions of yours?  Oh, in that case spew away.) And he conveniently leaves out of the picture the role of massive federal farm subsidies and—ahem—the ethanol boondoggle, both of which I suspect Krugman supports.  In the absence of these government interventions, the pollution problem Toledo faced might be considerably lower.

Krugman’s cat better hide.

Algae copy