Why are people unemployed? What can be done? Krugman explains:
Bear in mind that the unemployed aren’t jobless because they don’t want to work, or because they lack the necessary skills. There’s nothing wrong with our workers — remember, just four years ago the unemployment rate was below 5 percent.Krugman is correct that the bursting of the housing bubble unleashed a lot of the problem, but once again he fails to understand the larger and more underlying problems. First, while I doubt that even Krugman would want a return of the housing bubble, he still refuses to see it as an economic "correction," but rather just a temporary bump in the onward march of "aggregate demand." In other words, he refuses to admit that vast amount of resources were malinvested, and that we cannot have a meaningful recovery until most of these malinvestments either have been liquidated or moved to other uses.
The core of our economic problem is, instead, the debt — mainly mortgage debt — that households ran up during the bubble years of the last decade. Now that the bubble has burst, that debt is acting as a persistent drag on the economy, preventing any real recovery in employment. And once you realize that the overhang of private debt is the problem, you realize that there are a number of things that could be done about it.
For example, we could have W.P.A.-type programs putting the unemployed to work doing useful things like repairing roads — which would also, by raising incomes, make it easier for households to pay down debt. We could have a serious program of mortgage modification, reducing the debts of troubled homeowners. We could try to get inflation back up to the 4 percent rate that prevailed during Ronald Reagan’s second term, which would help to reduce the real burden of debt.
Instead, he claims that the government should give us "a serious program of mortgage modification," although he fails to mention that the Obama administration already has thrown billions of dollars into housing, yet the slump continues as it has for the past four years. Maybe his claim would be that the current program is "not serious" or that maybe someone like Krugman should have developed it. As I see it, however, any program that attempts to prop up prices that are going to fall no matter what is not going to be successful.
Second, I would hope that we someday could move beyond the notion that the WPA was a great and wonderful program. As numerous researchers have pointed out, it was politics-ridden and mostly involved make-work jobs that did not move the economy to recovery. Yes, Krugman has claimed that the WPA was pure and absolutely uncorrupted, but the facts speak otherwise, not that Krugman ever would misrepresent history.
Yes, I am sure that turning every unemployed person into a road-crew worker would result in some better roads, although I am not sure from where Krugman believes the resources to finance all of this, other than more borrowed money. (Oh, I forgot. All we have to do is to raise the top rate on all incomes above $250K a year to 39.6 percent from 35 percent, and the economy magically will jump back into shape.)
In the end, he resorts to calling for inflation. After all, he reasons, if inflation was 4 percent during Ronald Reagan's second term, then we should be willing to accept it, as though inflation is a good thing. Yes, I know that Krugman really believes that by inflating the currency and reducing the value of the monetary holdings of most people, government can bring about economic recovery, but once again, we see that he never addresses some of the real issues of unemployment.
Thank goodness, there is Robert Murphy. His recent article on unemployment sheds some light on the subject and is a wonderful antidote to Krugman's latest screed.
Krugman ends with this:
So there are policies we could be pursuing to bring unemployment down. These policies would be unorthodox — but so are the economic problems we face. And those who warn about the risks of action must explain why these risks should worry us more than the certainty of continued mass suffering if we do nothing.In other words, because the economy is in what Krugman claims is a "liquidity trap," we can dispense with the Law of Opportunity Cost and just pretend we are prosperous by printing and borrowing money and spending as though we were in a time of prosperity. Economics does not work that way.