In other words, folks, it's Goldstein (or maybe "Scoldstein") time again. Yes, everyone knows that the way to "fix" the economy is for the government to borrow vast sums of money for consumption goods, and the spending that comes with that and printing money will give the economy enough "traction" to move on itself -- at least until the next boom runs out of steam and government has to repeat the process.
Krugman goes on to explain that anyone who might question this economic "wisdom" does so out of malevolence and (maybe) some ignorance or a false belief in some sort of economic "morality," writing:
...austerity maintained and even strengthened its grip on elite opinion. Why?However, we find that this brand of economic fundamentalism really is nothing more than a dastardly plot hatched by the Evil 1 Percent (or maybe just the Evil One himself, namely Scoldstein):
Part of the answer surely lies in the widespread desire to see economics as a morality play, to make it a tale of excess and its consequences. We lived beyond our means, the story goes, and now we’re paying the inevitable price. Economists can explain ad nauseam that this is wrong, that the reason we have mass unemployment isn’t that we spent too much in the past but that we’re spending too little now, and that this problem can and should be solved. No matter; many people have a visceral sense that we sinned and must seek redemption through suffering — and neither economic argument nor the observation that the people now suffering aren’t at all the same people who sinned during the bubble years makes much of a dent.
What, after all, do people want from economic policy? The answer, it turns out, is that it depends on which people you ask — a point documented in a recent research paper by the political scientists Benjamin Page, Larry Bartels and Jason Seawright. The paper compares the policy preferences of ordinary Americans with those of the very wealthy, and the results are eye-opening.Could Krugman be engaging in...conspiracy theories? Read on:
Thus, the average American is somewhat worried about budget deficits, which is no surprise given the constant barrage of deficit scare stories in the news media, but the wealthy, by a large majority, regard deficits as the most important problem we face. And how should the budget deficit be brought down? The wealthy favor cutting federal spending on health care and Social Security — that is, “entitlements” — while the public at large actually wants to see spending on those programs rise.
You get the idea: The austerity agenda looks a lot like a simple expression of upper-class preferences, wrapped in a facade of academic rigor. What the top 1 percent wants becomes what economic science says we must do.
Does a continuing depression actually serve the interests of the wealthy? That’s doubtful, since a booming economy is generally good for almost everyone. What is true, however, is that the years since we turned to austerity have been dismal for workers but not at all bad for the wealthy, who have benefited from surging profits and stock prices even as long-term unemployment festers. The 1 percent may not actually want a weak economy, but they’re doing well enough to indulge their prejudices.
And this makes one wonder how much difference the intellectual collapse of the austerian position will actually make. To the extent that we have policy of the 1 percent, by the 1 percent, for the 1 percent, won’t we just see new justifications for the same old policies?
This is a most interesting position he is taking. There are two sets of policies in which government policy directly enriches that "1 percent." The first involves the massive bank and financial bailouts that have been at the heart of the "austerity" policies imposed upon countries like Greece, Ireland, Portugal, and Spain, not to mention the continuing bailouts being pushed by the central banks of Europe, the USA, and Japan.
And guess what? Krugman supports the bailouts, even though he believes that they should be financed, at least in Europe, via booms, the very kind of booms that collapsed and created the financial crises in the first place. To put it mildly, Krugman demands another round of "hair of the dog" economics.
The second enrichment-of-the-wealthy policy is crony capitalism, but when David Stockman speaks out against this get-rich-by-being-politically-connected set of schemes, Krugman lambasts him for being a "scold." So, it seems that The Great One wants it both ways: cry crocodile tears about how government policies hurt the poor, and then endorse economic schemes that...hurt the poor.
What about the so-called morality play of which Krugman speaks? He is saying that Austrians believe that somehow booms are "sinful," and that if Wall Street and the rest of the economy get drunk, then it is time to hide the alcohol and everything else. No soup for you!!
Yet, what is it that Austrians have been saying? We hold that credit-fed booms, and especially the credit-fed booms that involve heavy borrowing for purchasing consumption goods, are going to run aground because they are not sustainable. The borrowing and investment patterns do not match consumer spending and saving preferences, which means that the boom runs out of steam on its own.
If the economy is to have a real recovery, then entrepreneurs must be able to find those assets that are potentially profitable and be able to move resources from lower-valued uses to higher-valued uses. But, the Krugman plan is to have government subsidize moving resources from higher-valued uses to lower-valued uses, and keep doing it until one day things magically turn around.
The housing boom crashed when it became apparent that most Americans could not afford the super-high prices created by the boom and when a wave of mortgage defaults hit the system, it went down. Krugman, apparently not appreciating the hard fact that a family making $50K a year probably cannot afford the payments on a house selling for $500K, says that trying to keep an asset bubble alive not only is economically feasible, but also the only moral policy that can be implemented.
Austrians are not calling for "austerity" for austerity's sake or because they want people to be thrown out of work, but rather because they believe the current sets of policies are not economically sustainable. The American economy cannot subsidize itself into prosperity via "green energy," nor can the economy continue to exist as a series of asset bubbles. Furthermore, while the Fed can mask the problems by purchasing financial instruments like mortgage securities in order to prop up their prices, it cannot repeal the Law of Demand or the Law of Scarcity.
And Austrians certainly are not "austerians" of the European variety. We simply are saying we don't believe in the Debt Fairy or the Inflation Fairy, and we don't need Scoldstein to convince us that we cannot rebuild an economy by having Ben Bernanke pull financial rabbits from his hat.
Krugman, on the other hand, fervently believes that even though debt piled up during the last boom, which finally ran aground, the way to create a stronger economy -- and somehow magically pay down some of the debt, at least in the future -- is for more of the same. So, who is practicing a religious fundamentalism?