The problem is not Krugman's saying such things; it's a semi-free country, after all. No, the problem is that when government follows these recommendations, disaster follows, even while Krugman and others are denying it or blaming the free market and sound money for economic evils. In today's column, he gives us more of the same.
As everyone knows, the government of Greece is in deep trouble. It overspent, went into deep debt, and now cannot pay back the debts. Even Krugman recognizes that fact, but then (as usual) draws the false conclusion that the way to deal with financial irresponsibility is, well, to be even more irresponsible:
Yes, Greece is paying the price for past fiscal irresponsibility. Yet that’s by no means the whole story. The Greek tragedy also illustrates the extreme danger posed by a deflationary monetary policy. And that’s a lesson one hopes American policy makers will take to heart.Now, to say that any country now has a "deflationary monetary policy" is to be hallucinating. No one, I repeat, no one is engaging in deflation. Would be that were the case.
Here is Krugman in his own words about the crisis:
The key thing to understand about Greece’s predicament is that it’s not just a matter of excessive debt. Greece’s public debt, at 113 percent of G.D.P., is indeed high, but other countries have dealt with similar levels of debt without crisis. For example, in 1946, the United States, having just emerged from World War II, had federal debt equal to 122 percent of G.D.P. Yet investors were relaxed, and rightly so: Over the next decade the ratio of U.S. debt to G.D.P. was cut nearly in half, easing any concerns people might have had about our ability to pay what we owed. And debt as a percentage of G.D.P. continued to fall in the decades that followed, hitting a low of 33 percent in 1981.Once again, Krugman gets it wrong. The USA followed pro-growth policies after World War II, unlike Greece (you know, where people actually are allowed to produce real goods without the government trying to put them out of business). However, Krugman, while admitting that Greece is not going to be so fortunate, then blames the semblance of sound money.
So how did the U.S. government manage to pay off its wartime debt? Actually, it didn’t. At the end of 1946, the federal government owed $271 billion; by the end of 1956 that figure had risen slightly, to $274 billion. The ratio of debt to G.D.P. fell not because debt went down, but because G.D.P. went up, roughly doubling in dollar terms over the course of a decade. The rise in G.D.P. in dollar terms was almost equally the result of economic growth and inflation, with both real G.D.P. and the overall level of prices rising about 40 percent from 1946 to 1956.
Unfortunately, Greece can’t expect a similar performance. Why? Because of the euro.
Until recently, being a member of the euro zone seemed like a good thing for Greece, bringing with it cheap loans and large inflows of capital. But those capital inflows also led to inflation — and when the music stopped, Greece found itself with costs and prices way out of line with Europe’s big economies. Over time, Greek prices will have to come back down. And that means that unlike postwar America, which inflated away part of its debt, Greece will see its debt burden worsened by deflation.
Like most Keynesians, Krugman believes a boom can last forever, just as long as government provides lots and lots of money, even if it leads to, well, double-digit (and worse) inflation. According to Krugman, the worst thing that can happen is deflation, and the real lesson here is that we need to debase the currency even more. Read on:
But what are the lessons for America? Of course, we should be fiscally responsible. What that means, however, is taking on the big long-term issues, above all health costs — not grandstanding and penny-pinching over short-term spending to help a distressed economy.While Krugman does not define "excessively low inflation," nonetheless his point is clear. We need lots and lots of inflation, and anything else will be a disaster.
Equally important, however, we need to steer clear of deflation, or even excessively low inflation (Emphasis mine).
This is foolish advice, and it does not surprise me to read such nonsense from a Keynesian. After all, Keynesians believe that money is nothing more than a quantity variable that is to be manipulated to make aggregate models "work better." Is there unemployment? No problem; just add inflation, which will increase "aggregate demand" (because the demand for money falls as it loses value and velocity increases) and result in "full employment."
You see, to a Keynesian, this trick can be repeated time and again, as there are no real consequences from higher inflation except that prices go up. However, as Austrians point out, when inflation continues, malinvestments distort the structure of production, changing relative values of assets and ultimately leading to a crisis.
For example, contra Krugman, the housing boom could not continue because ultimately the factor prices in housing relative to everything else became too distorted to continue the charade. When the whole market depends upon being able to cram family incomes of $50K into paying a mortgage for a $500K house, the system cannot be sustained no matter how much new money government throws into the mix. Even Krugman recognizes that the housing market went bad, but then he reasons that it came about because of a lack of regulation, not because government was holding down interest rates and trying to direct that new money into housing. As I wrote in this post, such notions make no sense at all.
As I have stated many times before, the central problem is that Krugman and the Keynesians work from models in which all capital and all other assets are homogeneous. There can be no distortions in the structure of production, which always responds negatively to deflation and positively to inflation. This is a methodology that appeals to politicians and the modern, mainstream media, but it is not economics; it is Harry Potter Science.
Furthermore, we need deflation. That's right, far from avoiding it, we need to experience it. Yes, the initial results will be very painful (as though we are not experiencing pain now), but soon enough the factors of production will become balanced again, relative prices will make sense, and then the economy can find new lines of production that actually can be sustained.
However, because the initial stages of deflation are painful, Krugman says me must avoid it at all costs, even to the cost of destroying our money via inflation. Now, Krugman also believes that deflation will lead to a permanent downward spiral in which the economy ultimately becomes stuck at low production and high unemployment.
That is not true, not by a long shot. If Krugman were right, then the economy never would have recovered in 1982, when President Ronald Reagan and Fed Chairman Paul Volcker (who is the real hero here) permitted interest rates to rise, yet we had a real recovery in 1983 and beyond. While Krugman tries to claim that the recovery came about because of Keynesian-inspired deficit spending, the real results of that recovery contradict his story.
Had it been a "Keynesian recovery" (which in Austrian terms is an oxymoron), we would have seen growth in the usual sectors of manufacturing instead of seeing the growth centered on high-technology and telecommunications. Furthermore, Keynesians hold that one cannot have a recovery and have high interest rates, yet that is exactly what happened in the mid-1980s.
I agree with Krugman that the fact that Greece is on the Euro means that the government cannot inflate its way out of this mess -- and create a bigger mess. Yes, that means some real pain in the short run, but, contrary to what Krugman is claiming, in the long run it actually presents the Greeks with the opportunity to get things right.
Yes, there is a lesson from the fall of Greece. It is this: get your house in order and keep it in order. Don't keep printing money and claiming you are "saving the economy." Inflation is like heroin. It might feel good at the beginning stages, but in the end it destroys everything.