Max Boot, writing in the Washington Post, has called down the wrath, such as it is, of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the New York socialist recently elected to the House of Representatives as a Democrat. Boot made an obvious comparison between Representative Ocasio-Cortez and former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, both of whom have thrived politically on tremendous personal appeal that made them popular with the more confrontational elements of their parties but frequently revealed embarrassing gaps in their knowledge. Representative Ocasio-Cortez, for example, has said things suggesting that she does not seem to know what it is that Congress does or how a bill becomes a law, which are things that you might want a member of Congress to know.
Representative Ocasio-Cortez responded: “If you’re allowed to characterize female politicians as ‘unlikeable,’ are we allowed to describe takes like these ‘resentful?’”
One, Representative Ocasio-Cortez is here engaged in the cheapest form of identity politics, “You hit me, and I’m a girl!” Boot does compare her to Sarah Palin. He also compares her to Chuck Schumer and Donald Trump. There were people who disliked Barack Obama because of his race. There were people who disliked him for other reasons, of which there were many. There surely are people who resent Representative Ocasio-Cortez because she is a woman; that does not give her a pass for saying things that are foolish or untrue.
Two, Boot’s criticism of her isn’t that she is “unlikeable.” In fact, his column says exactly the opposite: She is, he writes, “telegenic, down-to-earth and quick-witted,” and a “star.” He criticizes Republicans for their “dimwitted, ad hominem criticisms” of her. His criticism of her is that she puts out a fair amount of Trump-style “word salad” and that she is intellectually superficial. He quotes her complaining that “there’s a lot of people more concerned about being precisely, factually, and semantically correct than about being morally right.” Washington surely does not need another “damn the facts, my team is my team!” politician. Democrats, in particular, claim to hold that kind of attitude in special contempt. His advice is good, and she should heed it.
Third, “If you’re allowed to characterize female politicians as . . .” occasions the question: “Allowed by whom? If the gentlewoman from New York will consult the Constitution that she has just taken an oath to support and defend, she will see that it very clearly does “allow” for criticizing politicians, even if they are female. It’s right there in the document. That’s why they put the First Amendment first. Isn’t the more relevant question about this criticism not whether it is allowable than whether it is true? If you want to characterize Max Boot as resentful, you’re in good company: Writers from National Review certainly have in the recent past. But there isn’t anything in his column that is obviously untrue.
Fourth, the representative insists that her tax proposal is endorsed by “Nobel-Prize winning economists.” Status-borrowing is a very old and very popular technique in political marketing. One could, if one were so inclined, compile a pretty good list of insane things that have been endorsed by winners of various Nobel prizes. Linus Pauling, winner of two “Nobel” prizes (chemistry and the peace prize) argued that massive doses of vitamin C were the most promising treatment for both mental illness and terminal cancer; Paul Krugman does not have a very good record when he wanders far beyond his field, which is trade economics, e.g., “By 2005 or so, it will become clear that the Internet’s impact on the economy has been no greater than the fax machine’s.” These propositions have not aged well, and there is a world of difference between academic expertise and sneering certitude.
That aside, which Nobel laureates have in fact endorsed her proposal? Professor Krugman is well-disposed toward it, and writes that it is “consistent with” the work of Peter Diamond, another winner of the Nobel prize. “Is consistent with” is not a synonym for “endorsed by.” Joseph Stiglitz has mentioned a 70 percent top rate, but from what I have read seems more to favor a European-style model in which those taxes kick in well before the $10 million annual-income threshold suggested by Representative Ocasio-Cortez:
Denmark, for example, has a top tax rate of more than 60 percent, but that applies to anyone making more than $54,900. The top rate in the United States, 39.6 percent, doesn’t kick in until individual income reaches $400,000 (or $450,000 for a couple). Only three O.E.C.D. countries — South Korea, Canada and Spain — have higher thresholds.
If either Nobel laureate would like to endorse a piece of legislation proposed by Representative Ocasio-Cortez, then he should do so. That would be worth having on record. Conversely, if Representative Ocasio-Cortez would like to endorse a 60 percent tax on incomes exceeding $54,900 — and I am sure she can find a Nobel laureate to endorse that — then it will be amusing to watch what follows.
In closing — and pardon me for being so rude as to notice — Professor Krugman’s enthusiasm for Representative Ocasio-Cortez does not seem to be founded principally on admiration for her economic thinking. His post begins:
I have no idea how well Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez will perform as a member of Congress. But her election is already serving a valuable purpose. You see, the mere thought of having a young, articulate, telegenic nonwhite woman serve is driving many on the right mad.
Professor Krugman is the winner of the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, and gave a prize lecture titled “The Increasing Returns Revolution in Trade and Geography.” It is not clear what that scholarship has to do with his beliefs about the cynical uses to which young telegenic non-white women may be put by self-serving white men of retirement age and beyond.