Krugman – wow, just "wow".
I really don’t know how to actually characterize my reaction to this nonsense from Paul Krugman except to say if you thought he was in bizarro land before, check this out. The irony is he calls others stupid and invokes "Economics 101" when it’s clear … well you take a look. Here he’s talking about the proposed $50 billion "stimulus" focused on infrastructure. And he begins to pontificate:
Beyond all that, the new initiative is a chance for me to air one of my pet peeves: the stupidity of the claim, which you hear all the time — and you’ll hear again now — that it’s always better to provide stimulus in the form of tax cuts, because individuals know better than the government what to do with their money.
Why is this claim stupid? Because Econ 101 tells us that there are some things the government must provide, namely public goods whose benefits can’t be internalized by the market.
I had a friend who would accuse people like Krugman of being like a goose and waking up in a new world everyday. Apparently in today’s new world Krugman has forgotten that we just spent most of a trillion borrowed dollars on infrastructure stimulus. And then there was TARP, cash for clunkers, home buyers tax credit, mortgage payment relief and unending unemployment benefits. But it’s all too small now and it’s the fault of the usual suspects.
What Krugman doesn’t want you to remember, of course is his own recommendation on the size of the stimulus package:
All indications are that the new administration will offer a major stimulus package. My own back-of-the-envelope calculations say that the package should be huge, on the order of $600 billion.
In fact, the administration added 30% to his number and now, suddenly, it’s all too small. Not only that, it failed miserably. And, when you add it all up, it’s about 3 trillion in spending for “public goods” over two years added to the federal debt.
Result? 14.9 Americans unemployed, the economy in a shambles and consumers afraid to spend. And Krugman, in his new world today, demands more spending and has the temerity to call those opposing it stupid and his approach “econ 101”.
To add to the Krugman madness, we have him essentially pining for the good old days of spending like we did during WWII. Despite the fact that it all but destroyed the world and did destroy about 80 million lives, that’s the level of spending he now thinks is needed.
From an economic point of view World War II was, above all, a burst of deficit-financed government spending, on a scale that would never have been approved otherwise. Over the course of the war the federal government borrowed an amount equal to roughly twice the value of G.D.P. in 1940 — the equivalent of roughly $30 trillion today.
Had anyone proposed spending even a fraction that much before the war, people would have said the same things they’re saying today. They would have warned about crushing debt and runaway inflation. They would also have said, rightly, that the Depression was in large part caused by excess debt — and then have declared that it was impossible to fix this problem by issuing even more debt.
But guess what? Deficit spending created an economic boom — and the boom laid the foundation for long-run prosperity. Overall debt in the economy — public plus private — actually fell as a percentage of G.D.P., thanks to economic growth and, yes, some inflation, which reduced the real value of outstanding debts. And after the war, thanks to the improved financial position of the private sector, the economy was able to thrive without continuing deficits.
This is possibly the most blinkered and absurd bit of revisionist history I’ve read in a long time. There’s a "rest of the story" that makes this so much word salad that Krugman obviously studiously ignores in order to attempt this absurd plea to what, spend the equivalent of 30 trillion in deficit dollars (or to drive home the point that 3 trillion isn’t nearly enough)?
Victor Davis Hanson handily disassembles Krugman’s “work” and shows it up for the dishonesty that it is:
As WWII ended and the clean-up began, there was an enormous amount of pent-up global demand for goods. Given the wreckage in Europe, Japan, and Russia and the underdevelopment of India, Asia, and South America, we were about the only ones with the industrial and commercial wherewithal to supply the world rebound — often receiving cheap oil, gas, minerals, and interest in exchange, which supplemented our own vast supplies of comparatively cheap and easily recoverable resources. Nor should we forget the psychological element: Americans, after winning two wars, were enormously confident about their newfound international stature and influence.
At home, four years of consumer deprivation during the war and the weak demography of the 1930s had combined to create huge demand, all while society was increasingly leaving the farm for good and becoming suburbanized. The result was that in the late 1940s and 1950s, the birth rate soared and consumers enthusiastically made first-time purchases of washers, dryers, fridges, cars, etc. Thus, the American economy grew by leaps and bounds.
Today’s situation is not comparable: We are in hock to foreign creditors for trillions and have not been a net creditor since the 1980s. A China, Brazil, South Korea, Taiwan, or India is as or more likely to supply recovering demand for food, steel, or electronics. One can read Krugman-like arguments in Greek newspapers today — that only more massive borrowing can stimulate Greek demand, provide jobs, and grow Greece out of its recession. As if present-day deficits and aggregate debt with soon-to-be-rising interest payments don’t really matter.
It is always an indication that you probably shouldn’t pay much attention to a certain economist when it takes an expert in history to tell the economist his business.
But then that’s to be expected if you wake up in a new world everyday as it appears Paul Krugman does.
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