I don't think Paul Krugman has been at his best lately. Perhaps, as someone here suggested, the problem is that he's strayed too far from economics, his home base. Well today he writes about economics, home ownership, and he seems to mess it up. Unlike many of the people we talk about here, Krugman has shown that he's better than this. So it's sad to see him write:
But here’s a question rarely asked, at least in Washington: Why should ever-increasing homeownership be a policy goal? How many people should own homes, anyway?
Listening to politicians, you’d think that every family should own its home — in fact, that you’re not a real American unless you’re a homeowner. “If you own something,” Mr. Bush once declared, “you have a vital stake in the future of our country.” Presumably, then, citizens who live in rented housing, and therefore lack that “vital stake,” can’t be properly patriotic. Bring back property qualifications for voting!
Even Democrats seem to share the sense that Americans who don’t own houses are second-class citizens. Early last year, just as the mortgage meltdown was beginning, Austan Goolsbee, a University of Chicago economist who is one of Barack Obama’s top advisers, warned against a crackdown on subprime lending. “For be it ever so humble,” he wrote, “there really is no place like home, even if it does come with a balloon payment mortgage.”
The first question, however jarring, seems to be a legitimate one. But it ought to be directed at our intuitions about home ownership (that it gives you more of a stake in your neighborhood, etc.). Instead, Krugman aims this one first at what is clearly a caricature of the advocates of home ownership–one that barely even satisfies its own ridiculousness.
This is really a shame. It's nice to have one's intuitions challenged. Krugman could have done this well, had it not been for his George Will style "presumably" argument.