Well, it turns out that Alan Blinder has rejected the notion of a "free lunch," or at least he claims to reject it. In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, Blinder, while calling for a new "jobs" program, admits that his suggestion is "mitigation," not a "cure," as "there is no such thing as a free lunch." Of course, he then goes and lays out the plans for what essentially is a "free lunch" when it comes to dealing with the economy, as we shall see shortly.
Krugman, on the other hand, takes a more "bold" approach. Unlike Blinder, who advocates a "jobs tax credit" to employers, Krugman wants massive new borrowing and spending by the government in order to create a vast federal employment apparatus. He asks, in a rejoinder to those who say the "stimulus" did not work:
Everybody knows that President Obama tried to stimulate the economy with a huge increase in government spending, and that it didn’t work. But what everyone knows is wrong.Krugman further claims that most of the "stimulus" actually "consisted of tax cuts, not spending," and the government's attempt for mortgage relief has failed because the government has not tried it, spending only $2 billion of the $46 Congress set aside for the program. Even if that is true, Krugman has not explained how mortgage relief would jump-start the economy.
Think about it: Where are the big public works projects? Where are the armies of government workers? There are actually half a million fewer government employees now than there were when Mr. Obama took office.
If there is a difference between Blinder and Krugman (even though they both teach at Princeton University), however, I would say that Blinder believes that any "jobs program" would provide temporary relief while Krugman seems to be a True Believer that new government jobs would promote new spending which would give the economy what he calls "traction" to move on by itself. What neither person seems to understand, however, is that unemployment is a symptom of the current economic problems, not a cause.
Now, to a certain extent, Krugman kind of understands this, but only on a most superficial and, frankly, circular basis. In Krugman's analysis, spending creates jobs, but then people with jobs also spend, so if the economy suffers from a lack of spending which causes people to lose their jobs, then the government should start spending so that people can get their jobs back so they can spend.
Neither person seems to have a clue as to what an economy really is, and neither seems to understand even the most fundamental basis of production. To them, an economy is something that just happens; spend the money and an economy magically appears. And if an "economist" cannot even understand an economy or only can explain its workings in the most superficial and mechanistic fashion (Y = C + I + G), then he or she pretty much is incapable of understanding that a "job" is not an independent and random creation of the state, but rather the employment of factors of production that is purposeful in nature.
To Keynesians such as Krugman and Blinder, factors of production really are homogeneous; as long as money is spent, it will flow evenly to all of those factors that currently are unemployed and lift them back into employment at the same time. Yet, one cannot understand the dynamics of a recovery unless one understands the simple fact that factors of production are heterogeneous.
This goes back to the Keynesian view of the boom, which Keynesians see as a good thing. When the bust occurs, argue Keynesians, government must spend to "fill the hole" (in Krugman's words) in order to keep boom conditions flowing. However, the booms do not go off the rails because of a lack of spending per se, but rather because the boom is based in large part upon spending and investment that is directed toward lines of production that cannot be sustained because consumer spending is trying to move in a different direction.
The contraction, or recession, actually is a corrective action in which the malinvested resources no longer are receiving the same amounts of investment money, with entrepreneurs looking for those lines of production that are sustainable, given consumer preferences and choices. The bitter irony is that the government's "stimulus" actions, along with its regulatory initiatives, are trying to keep resources in those unsustainable lines of production and actually are blocking a recovery.
Furthermore, President Obama has painted himself into a corner. By continuing the Bush initiatives to deal with the original crisis and prevent the necessary liquidation of some lines of production, Obama also has guaranteed that an ensuing correction will be much worse than it would have been had the economy been able to take a corrective course four years ago, and I think that he and his advisers know it.
Unfortunately, Obama continues to insist that he can do the impossible: direct investment into lines of production that are unsustainable in a free market (such as "green energy") and blame Bush and the Republicans for everything. (And Bush and the Republicans bear a lot of responsibility, but Obama is in his third year of office and he only has made things worse.)
The sad fact is that the American economy has not yet seen the very necessary economic correction that needs to happen before we can have a real recovery. The political classes have done all they can to block the correction, which means that we are going to have the worst of both worlds: economic stagnation. There is a way out, but neither the "elite" economists nor the people in political power are willing to take that route, and everyone else will pay for their foolish choices.