For another friend who was graduated several years before me, there was this: "The problem with the world is wine, women, and song. We must stop singing." Obviously, that line is meant to be humorous, but when someone actually tries to apply something similar to economic analysis, well, the joke ceases to be funny.
One of the reoccurring themes in Paul Krugman's blog posts has been his dissatisfaction with the results of European countries adopting the Euro as a single currency. In a recent post, he writes:
As readers may have guessed, I’ve been working on a euro-related project; more about that one of these days. But for now, I thought it might be worth explaining a bit more about how I see the political economy.In this and in other posts and columns in which he blames the Euro for much of the turmoil on the Continent, Krugman confuses cause with effect. As I have noted in other posts dealing with Krugman's Euro fetish, Krugman seems to believe that the "solution" for Europe is yet another round of inflation, a "hair of the dog" monetary and fiscal strategy.
Some readers have chimed in that the euro is essentially a political rather than economic project. Well, it’s both; that has been the European strategy ever since the Schuman declaration. The point is to deliver a series of economic integration plans that do double duty: they’re economically productive, but they also create “de facto solidarity”, moving Europe closer to political union.
For 60 years, this strategy has been highly successful. Europe is one of the great, inspiring stories of the modern world, maybe of all time: peace, prosperity, and democracy flourishing where once there were minefields and barbed wire.
But: the strategy depends on each move toward economic integration being both a political symbol and a good economic idea. That was clearly true of coal and steel, the common market, the eurosausage, and so on. It is, however, by no means clear that the euro passes that test. Europe’s limited labor mobility (although there’s more than there used to be) and, crucially, lack of fiscal integration makes a common currency a dubious proposition at best.
At the center of this problem is the fact that the huge European welfare apparatus, along with the power of government employee unions such as those in Greece, Spain, and Frace, only can be supported if the economies of those nations produce enough wealth to enable governments to spread it around. Furthermore, the taxation and regulation policies of those nations must be such that it is possible for private firms to create enough wealth in the first place.
Unfortunately, one of the things that happens in economic downturns is that tax revenues fall and it becomes obvious that the lavish government benefits given to government employees cannot be supported by that country's economic activity. Now, as Krugman has noted, in the past, when each of these government controlled its own fiat currency, one "solution" was devaluation, which in reality is nothing more than a government's admission of trying to paper over its losses by engaging in a glorified printing of new money.
This, economically speaking, is not a solution at all. It simply masks the underlying problems and creates new problems in the process. Not only does this strategy continue the charade of "giving" people something that is illusory, but it also undermines an economic recovery.
However, when a country does not control its fiat currency, as is the case of the Euro, then the problems become much more front-and-center. Greece, for example, is in trouble because it no longer can afford to give government employees pay and benefits that they are not earning, and the Greek government employees have responded by going on a rampage of rioting, murder, and destruction of property.
The Euro is not the cause of this trouble; instead, it is the messenger, the entity that bears the bad tidings. What is Krugman's response? It is shoot the messenger. In Krugman's view, there is nothing wrong with runaway government benefits; in fact, he argues, such spending helps the economy by "stimulating" it.
While there often is much not to like about "austerity" moves, nonetheless for the most part they are little more than policies that reflect the economic reality of the present time. (My problem with "austerity" is that it often emphasizes the implementation of new taxes without cutting enough spending; I'm all for the reality of "pay as you go," but we have to understand that we cannot kill the Golden Goose in the process.)
Krugman really seems to believe that we can pretend we are creating wealth simply by borrowing, spending, and creating new money. Yet, these actions don't create wealth; they destroy it. Krugman may call such a statement the product of "zombie economics," but to claim that government spending by itself "creates wealth" is the real "zombie" position.