Conservatives would have you believe that our disappointing economic performance has somehow been caused by excessive government spending, which crowds out private job creation. But the reality is that private-sector job growth has more or less matched the recoveries from the last two recessions; the big difference this time is an unprecedented fall in public employment, which is now about 1.4 million jobs less than it would be if it had grown as fast as it did under President George W. Bush.
And, if we had those extra jobs, the unemployment rate would be much lower than it is — something like 7.3 percent instead of 8.2 percent. It sure looks as if cutting government when the economy is deeply depressed hurts rather than helps the American people.
First, let us get something straight. The "private sector" hardly is thriving. Yes, we are hearing about "record profits" from some businesses, but these are not the best of times for business and a lot of people understand that the foundations are quite shaky.
Second, governments do not generate wealth on their own. Everything that they spend ultimately comes from something that has been produced in the business world. (Sorry, Keynesians. Newly-printed money is not wealth. It is newly-printed money.) Thus, if state and local governments are hurting, they are hurting because businesses and individuals do not have the revenues to support the kind of spending that many states have enjoyed.
This last point is important, because Krugman in effect is declaring that state government spending is the source of wealth for much of the economy. After all, if businesses were doing as well as Krugman and the Democrats are claiming, and if millionaires abound, then there should be no problem in raising the tax revenues necessary for the funding of police, firefighters, and teachers.
Krugman, of course, would claim that the way to generate new funds would be for the federal government to ramp up its borrowing, and then give the money to state governments. Not that this is sustainable, but at least he would have a plan.
However, that still does not solve Krugman's "cause-and-effect" issue. The gathering of tax revenues by state and local governments is what allows these governments to spend, and they only can gain revenues by taxing businesses and individuals. Yet, Krugman wants us to believe that the causal chain runs the other way: state spending generates wealth; in fact, it is the originator of wealth.
Once upon a time, academic economists actually were taught things like cause-and-effect. However, in Macroworld, effect becomes cause.
David Gordon Schools Krugman
David Gordon has a scathing review of Krugman's new book, End This Depression Now!, in which Gordon writes that Krugman has a "cartoon version of Keynesianism." Gordon writes:
Krugman does not so much as mention the pioneering work of Robert Higgs, Depression, War, and Cold War, which decisively challenges the contention that World War II ended the Great Depression. Higgs convincingly shows that prosperity returned only after the war ended. But let us, very much contrary to fact, suppose that Krugman is correct about the effects of government spending in the years after 1940. His defense of Keynes would still be grossly deficient.I believe that is a fair commentary on how Krugman presents his material, and his method of arguing his point. If you agree, it is because you are good; those who disagree do so because of the evil lurking in their hearts and souls.
What he is in effect saying is this: "Instances that appear to confirm the claim that government spending ends depressions count in favor of Keynes. But cases that go against Keynes do not count, because we cannot rule out the possibility that greater spending would have worked."
What Keynes's friend Piero Sraffa, who cannot be suspected of bias in favor of the Austrian School, wrote in his copy of Keynes's General Theory applies to Krugman as well: "as usual, heads I win, tails you lose."