The guy who recently claimed that the U.S. Government really didn't go on a spending spree now says that the British Government is channeling Andrew Mellon. I think it is important that we understand a couple of things: first, even if Britain or the U.S. Government will not be raising spending as much as Krugman claims they should be doing, nonetheless both countries are characterized by bloated public sectors.
Second, Herbert Hoover did not take Mellon's advice to "liquidate the farmers" and "purge the rottenness out of the system." This is a quote that people like Krugman are fond of laying out, but all Mellon was saying was that the government cannot and should not prop up malinvestments, and needed to let the markets take their courses. Contra Krugman, that is what happened in 1921, and the economy recovered nicely. (Notice that Krugman never speaks of that particular recession because he can't spin a Keynesian tale out of the recovery.)
Given that Krugman generally rewrites history, I find this quote to be amusing. Krugman writes:
The operative word here should, however, be “eventually.” Fiscal austerity will depress the economy further unless it can be offset by a fall in interest rates. Right now, interest rates in Britain, as in America, are already very low, with little room to fall further. The sensible thing, then, is to devise a plan for putting the nation’s fiscal house in order, while waiting until a solid economic recovery is under way before wielding the ax.From where does the British Government get all of those resources that Krugman claims it should be spending? Well, in Wonderland, governments crank up the printing press and - Voila! - create wealth. Krugman never does seem to grasp the simple fact that when governments spend, they are using real resources that have to come from somewhere; he really does believe that borrowing and printing money is the economic equivalent of serious private investment.
But trendy fashion, almost by definition, isn’t sensible — and the British government seems determined to ignore the lessons of history.
Both the new British budget announced on Wednesday and the rhetoric that accompanied the announcement might have come straight from the desk of Andrew Mellon, the Treasury secretary who told President Herbert Hoover to fight the Depression by liquidating the farmers, liquidating the workers, and driving down wages. Or if you prefer more British precedents, it echoes the Snowden budget of 1931, which tried to restore confidence but ended up deepening the economic crisis.
The British government’s plan is bold, say the pundits — and so it is. But it boldly goes in exactly the wrong direction. It would cut government employment by 490,000 workers — the equivalent of almost three million layoffs in the United States — at a time when the private sector is in no position to provide alternative employment. It would slash spending at a time when private demand isn’t at all ready to take up the slack.
There is one more thing. I never have known politicians not to want to spend, spend, and spend some more. The notion that politicians are stingy with other people's money is laughable, and the notion that the only thing saving us from utter destruction is government's ability to borrow and print is a joke, a sick joke, but a joke, nonetheless.