Nonetheless, his view is problematic, especially when one compares his views to those of economist Robert Higgs, who in this essay clearly debunked the "World War II as the end of the Depression" nonsense. Nonetheless, Krugman counters that the amoral nature of economics allows for war to be a positive catalyst in ending a downturn, even if we are against the war itself.
Economics, he writes, "is not a morality play." That is true, at least at one level. Ludwig von Mises himself wrote that economics is a "value-free" science, but he was writing from a very different perspective.
Krugman's contention is this:
...economics is not a morality play. It’s not a happy story in which virtue is rewarded and vice punished. The market economy is a system for organizing activity — a pretty good system most of the time, though not always — with no special moral significance. The rich don’t necessarily deserve their wealth, and the poor certainly don’t deserve their poverty; nonetheless, we accept a system with considerable inequality because systems without any inequality don’t work. And before the trolls jump in to say aha, Krugman concedes the truth of supply-side economics, that’s not an argument against progressive taxation and the welfare state; it’s just an argument that says that there are limits. Cuba doesn’t work; Sweden works pretty well.(Now, I would suspect that Krugman would not be able to explain why Cuba "doesn't work," given he thinks that the two greatest critics of socialism of the 20th Century, F.A. Hayek and Mises, were idiots and people of no insight. He probably would mumble something about "incentives," but I doubt Krugman would even be able to comprehend the "economic calculation" issue that Mises and Hayek developed.)
Krugman goes on:
And when we’re experiencing depression economics, by which I mean a situation in which it’s hard to create sufficient demand to achieve full employment — mainly because short-term interest rates are up against the zero lower bound — the essentially amoral nature of economics becomes even more acute. As I’ve said repeatedly, this is a situation in which virtue becomes vice and prudence is folly; what we need above all is for someone to spend more, even if the spending isn’t particularly wise. (Emphasis mine)It is interesting that he uses such phrasing, given it comes almost word for word from Bernard Mandeville's "Fable of the Bees," which was written in 1705, and which I lampooned in this piece, "The Fable of the Krugman."
Keep in mind, however, that Krugman's turning of the "virtue" of saving upside down to embrace the "vice" of reckless spending is not what Mises meant by describing economics as "value-free." Krugman is just saying that while saving would seem to be a good thing, what is needed now is spending, and lots of it. Thus, "situational ethics" becomes the basis for economic analysis.
However, the problem is not in our interpretation of economic morality. The problem is that Krugman insists that massive spending on behalf of the state will magically transform the U.S. economy, give it "traction," and send us on the Yellow Brick Road to Prosperity if not Oz itself.
Krugman does not embrace war; he embraces the government spending, the planned economy, the interventions, and the intrusions of the state into economic decisions. To him, that is Oz. However, if one reads the Higgs piece, one gets a much better understanding of the "prosperity" that war can bring.
For that matter, the Great Depression did not linger on because of a lack of government spending; as Higgs points out, it was "regime uncertainty," and I will put my money on that every time.
Ironically, while Krugman might not see himself as "Everyman," nonetheless his columns are full of condemnation for those people who might disagree with him or (horrors) vote differently than he does. So, even if the economy might not be a morality play, his columns tell a different story.