Friday, November 30, 2012

Krugman and Another Goldstein Moment

When Henry "Scoop" Jackson was confronted during the 1976 Democratic primary that his socialistic ideas violated laws of economics, Jackson replied that there was no problem: "We'll create a new economics," he told cheering supporters. Likewise, Franklin Roosevelt confidently proclaimed that since the laws of economics (read that, the Law of Opportunity Cost and the Law of Scarcity) were nothing more than human creations, his administration through majority rule and through intimidation and bluster could eliminate scarcity.

These men were politicians and one expects politicians to be divorced from reality when making empty promises to voters and if and when these initiatives fail -- as they must -- the politicians always can blame Goldstein, that ubiquitous saboteur. We expect nonsense and outright lies from politicians, and they always deliver.

However, it is quite another thing for an academic economist who is not self-identified as a Marxist to make the same claims, and especially an academic economist as decorated as Paul Krugman. In his column today, Krugman once again seems to make the claim that since voters have re-elected Barack Obama, that means that all of Obama's economic proposals must make sense, and that Obama can make it happen because he has the political will.
This was very much an election pitting the interests of the very rich against those of the middle class and the poor.

And the Obama campaign won largely by disregarding the warnings of squeamish “centrists” and embracing that reality, stressing the class-war aspect of the confrontation. This ensured not only that President Obama won by huge margins among lower-income voters, but that those voters turned out in large numbers, sealing his victory.
He adds:
Consider, as a prime example, the push to raise the retirement age, the age of eligibility for Medicare, or both. This is only reasonable, we’re told — after all, life expectancy has risen, so shouldn’t we all retire later? In reality, however, it would be a hugely regressive policy change, imposing severe burdens on lower- and middle-income Americans while barely affecting the wealthy. Why? First of all, the increase in life expectancy is concentrated among the affluent; why should janitors have to retire later because lawyers are living longer? Second, both Social Security and Medicare are much more important, relative to income, to less-affluent Americans, so delaying their availability would be a far more severe hit to ordinary families than to the top 1 percent.
 The simple answer is that Krugman ignores the hard fact that the vast majority of people who receive Social Security benefits are the poor and middle class, and the government, including our "Lord and Savior" Barack Obama, is incapable of creating resources from nothing, which means that we only can pay SS recipients what is in the till. One cannot craft a policy for Social Security without taking reality seriously, but Krugman really seems to believe that rhetoric is reality and that mere words can trump the Law of Scarcity.

There is another point Krugman does not mention, and that is the hard fact that the only place in this country that has consistently grown economically has been the Washington, D.C., area, which lives off the lives of taxpayers elsewhere. If the transfer society that Krugman so worships (along with his "Lord and Savior" Obama), then Washington's newfound wealth should then translate into wealth for all.

That, however, is not the case. Furthermore, by all measures black Americans have fared much worse under the Obama regime than any other regime in modern history, yet Krugman is telling us that if Obama continues to have his way, only the wealthy will be worse off and the rest of us will be rolling in clover.

So far, that has not happened, and it is not going to happen under the current set of governing policies from Washington. As long as we have politicians who believe entrepreneurs (that is, entrepreneurs that actually earn real-live profits) are parasites, that political entrepreneurs who enrich themselves with taxpayer subsidies are the real wealth generators, and that we can have economic recovery through transfer payments, and as long as we have voters and academic economists that actually believe this nonsense, we are going to see the downgrading of the American economy.

Of course, as the Obama administration continues to destroy the underpinnings of wealth creation, Krugman will blame the inevitable results on Goldstein. It has worked before, and it will work again. That is the new economic and political reality in the United States of America.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Are the Austrians Wrong?

Paul Krugman is at it again with the Austrians, creating straw men and then shooting down the arguments that they never made in the first place. Today, he goes after Peter Schiff, who actually did a very good job warning people about the housing bubble. Of course, in the process of supposedly discrediting Schiff, he discredits himself, too.

Krugman writes:
Now, the thing about Schiff and all the other Austrians predicting runaway inflation is that they were right to make this prediction given their model. If you believe that a recession is caused by a failure on the production side of the economy, the result of past malinvestment or something, you should also believe that any attempt to correct this decline by expanding credit will simply result in too much money chasing too few goods, and hence a lot of inflation.

By the same token, the failure of high inflation to materialize amounts to a decisive rejection of that model. (And no, it’s not because the numbers are fudged; independent estimates don’t differ significantly from official inflation.)

First, I agree that since the increase in the monetary base has come about by expanding bank reserves, the only way the new money will move into the economy will be through a huge expansion of loans, which has not happened. Yes, much of that new money has gone into government bonds, but we have to remember that much of what is raised through government bond auctions is used to pay off previous bonds. (This is something the ancients once called "robbing Peter to pay Paul.") Even Austrians know that the new money has to circulate before it affects asset prices.

However, Krugman misses something that is obvious: The Austrians, including Schiff, recognized the housing bubble for what it was, a huge set of malinvestments. After all, if there are no malinvestments, there is no bubble. So, how could a theory that actually predicted the meltdown also be a bad theory, if we are to use Krugman's criteria for determining if a theory has validity or not.

Second, while we have seen significant price increases in food and fuel, and these increases come in part because of the continual debasing of the dollar. What we have not seen has been hyperinflation and I agree with Krugman that this is because the economy is depressed. No one in the Austrian camp would deny this.

Third, the very fact that we have had massive malinvestments that cannot be supported by the market certainly is going to bring a downward effect on the economy and on prices. Furthermore, with government moving vast amounts of money to prop up the failing housing market, not to mention subsidizing "green energy" and banks, why should we be surprised that there is a huge lack of economic growth?

However, understand that Krugman also has called for government measures that would vastly expand the rate of inflation, that being his call for the Federal Reserve System to be the primary buyer of U.S. short-term securities, something that for now is prohibited by law. (Krugman claimed that a "clever lawyer" could find a way to re-interpret the law, and I am sure he is right, given how the government has re-interpreted other laws to fit the interests of politicians.)

If that were to take place, then there is no doubt we would see massive inflation as the bond sales would be financed almost entirely by new money, which then would be spent by the government. Krugman pretty much said the same thing in his Monday column, claiming that government can just print its way out of this morass without any real consequences, since inflation would "be good for the economy."

There is one thing that troubles me whenever Krugman claims that Austrians are willfully blind because they have not bowed to Krugman's demands that they declare the Austrian Theory of the Business Cycle to be invalid, and it is this: If real increases in government spending, massive Fed purchases of both private and public securities, and vast subsidies given to "green" industries, along with a huge auto industry bailout have not produced a robust recovery, then should not Krugman also take a hard look at his model?

(Yes, yes, I know. Krugman says that the problem is we have not had enough government spending, enough taxation, enough printing, enough borrowing, and, of course, enough inflation. After all, Krugman is a strong believer in the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy of inflation and economic growth, and despite historical evidence to the contrary, Krugman is not going to abandon what seems to be his real religion.)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Britain and Post-War France

In his never-ending quest to sanitize inflation, Paul Krugman now compares Great Britain and France in the 1920s, claiming that Britain chose the route of "virtue" while France inflated away its postwar debt, with France coming out the better. As is his M.O., Krugman does not tell the entire truth, but when one is bashing so-called virtue, I guess not telling the truth is to be expected.

He writes:
The two countries dealt with their debts very differently. Britain was a model of orthodoxy, returning to the gold standard and running huge primary surpluses to pay its debts; France, with a weaker political system, ended up inflating away much of its debt and accepting a big devaluation of the franc.
He then shows graphs that show a bigger gain in postwar GDP growth, which I guess is proof that inflation confers wonderful general economic benefits. (I am not putting the graphs on this page, so if you want to see them, go to his blog.)

First, Krugman overdoes it with the whole "virtue" thing. There was no "virtue" in Great Britain overvaluing its Pound Sterling following the war; virtue, after all, requires honesty and the Brits were not being honest about what World War I had done to its economy. (Like Krugman, they were in the "let's pretend we still are rich" mode of thinking.) Murray Rothbard in America's Great Depression noted that British financial policy was a disaster:
Great Britain, in particular, faced a grave economic problem. It was preparing to return to the gold standard at the pre-war par (the pound sterling equaling approximately $4.87), but this meant going back to gold at an exchange rate higher than the current free-market rate. In short, Britain insisted on returning to gold at a valuation that was 10-20 percent higher than the going exchange rate, which reflected the results of war and postwar inflation. This meant that British prices would have had to decline by about 10 to 20 percent in order to remain competitive with foreign countries, and to maintain her all-important export business.
However, notes Rothbard, because of the political power of Britain's labor unions, the needed wage contractions did not take place:
But no such decline occurred, primarily because unions did not permit wage rates to be lowered. Real-wage rates rose, and chronic large-scale unemployment struck Great Britain. Credit was not allowed to contract, as was needed to bring about deflation, as unemployment would have grown even more menacing—an unemployment caused partly by the postwar establishment of government unemployment insurance (which permitted trade unions to hold out against any wage cuts).
.As a result, Great Britain suffered from high unemployment during the 1920s. Indeed, had the Brits been "virtuous" instead of, well, British, they would have been willing to be honest about the real value of the pound and let it fall to market levels. To make matters worse, the USA through the actions mostly of the New York Federal Reserve Bank, actively increased the U.S. money supply, an action which did stabilize the pound at the higher price -- but at a high cost both to the British economy and ultimately to the USA itself.

Postwar France suffered from both inflation and political instability, as outlined by Benjamin Anderson in Economics and the Public Welfare. Anderson notes that by late July 1926, the French franc had fallen in value to about two cents. He writes:
Every day the housewife of Paris found that her bread and her herring and her wine were rising in price. A German housewife in the late autumn of 1925, speaking of the French housewife, said "Poor thing." The German housewife had been there herself.
That is the side of inflation Krugman claims does not exist, or is reluctant to admit. But when one writes that printing money will bring back prosperity, one is not going to admit the downside of inflation.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Krugman Channels His Inner Crank

For many years I have said that Paul Krugman, academically-decorated as he is, really is not an economist but rather is a political operative with an academic pedigree. Today, I must add another description: crank. Yes, with his column today, Paul Krugman demonstrates beyond a doubt that he is a crank, a pure inflationist on the same level with that most famous crank, Silvio Gesell.

For all those who claim I exaggerate, I will let Krugman's own words speak for him:
For we have our own currency — and almost all of our debt, both private and public, is denominated in dollars. So our government, unlike the Greek government, literally can’t run out of money. After all, it can print the stuff. So there’s almost no risk that America will default on its debt — I’d say no risk at all if it weren’t for the possibility that Republicans would once again try to hold the nation hostage over the debt ceiling.

But if the U.S. government prints money to pay its bills, won’t that lead to inflation? No, not if the economy is still depressed.

Now, it’s true that investors might start to expect higher inflation some years down the road. They might also push down the value of the dollar. Both of these things, however, would actually help rather than hurt the U.S. economy right now: expected inflation would discourage corporations and families from sitting on cash, while a weaker dollar would make our exports more competitive.
This hardly is out of place with Krugman's other writings on the subject. Like all cranks, Krugman looks only at one side of inflation, the "deleveraging" side in which inflation in essence repudiates debt. He absolutely is correct when he says that since U.S. Government debt is denominated in dollars, should the government make its payments via newly-created money (ostensibly done by the Fed directly purchasing U.S. Government short-term debt from the Department of the Treasury), it will have fulfilled its paper obligations.

And he is right that such actions would create future inflationary expectations, but that also is good because that would force more investment or spending, and we could export more. You see? There is no downside to this scheme! Print, print, print, and print some more!

Yet, there IS a downside, and it is huge. First, let us deal with the "little guy," the one who Krugman claims will benefit most from inflation. Krugman assumes that this person, who ostensibly has little or nothing in savings, will not be hurt as prices rise. Yet, it is precisely the "little guy" who does not get the new money first, who does not receive the benefit of getting pay raises that allow him to keep up with the rising prices.

Instead, this person is faced with the prospect of becoming poorer in real terms. Certainly the Obama administration has pursued a policy of inflation, and I wonder how many readers have seen their incomes go up proportionally to their expenses for food, fuel, and other necessities. I doubt seriously that most readers can say that has happened, but that many more will say that prices for goods and services have gone up faster than their incomes.

Second, Krugman really wants us to believe that an inflationary climate will improve investment conditions. I'm not sure how that would happen, given that when there is noticeable inflation, people will put their money into things like gold, silver, and other items that tend to hold their value, something we saw during the late 1970s when we had double-digit inflation.

The other thing that would happen would be people getting out of the dollar, which also was the case during the late 1970s. No doubt, if such things happened, Krugman would call for capital controls, a prohibition on buying gold, and a general investment police state, as though such coercion and prosperity go hand-in-hand.

There is one other inconsistency to which I would like to call the reader's attention: If Krugman really does believe that printing money is a permanent solution to our budget problems, then why raise tax rates? For that matter, why have taxes at all, since we can print our way to prosperity?

I doubt he has a good answer for these questions other than to say that he doesn't want hyperinflation, just enough inflation to repudiate debts and cover the government's budget shortfalls. After all, Warren Buffett on the same editorial page has made the incredible claim that tax rates have absolutely no effect at all on investment. (I challenge readers to find anywhere in Buffett's article where he says tax rates matter.)

Those of us who were adults during the last wave of double-digit inflation remember that most people did not see inflation as a solution, but rather an outright crisis. Certainly, Jimmy Carter did not run for re-election on a platform of even more inflation. I guess he should have had Paul Krugman as his chief economic adviser.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Krugman's Twinkie Economic Myths

I remember when Dan White, the former San Francisco city supervisor employed the infamous "Twinkie Defense" in his 1979 trial for the murder of the city's mayor, George Moscone, and fellow supervisor Harvey Milk. Apparently, the jurors were bamboozled by this nonsense and convicted him not of first-degree murder but rather voluntary manslaughter, leading to a sentence of seven years (for which he served five).

Most of us had not thought much about Twinkies and their supposed threat until Hostess recently announced its intention to shutter its operations because of an ongoing strike and its inability to compete in the present economy. However, in recent years, Twinkies supposedly had become famous because of their long shelf life, something that was exaggerated with people claiming the sugar-laden snacks could survive nuclear holocaust.

Well, the company that created them has not survived Barack Obama's economic holocaust, but the economic myths of the era in which Hostess cakes did very well also have outlasted the combination of sugar and chemicals, and who better to perpetuate these myths than Paul Krugman? In a recent column, Krugman harkens back to the 1950s -- the "Golden Era" for Twinkies -- and claims that the economy then was strong because of high taxes and union workforce dominance. He writes:
Needless to say, it wasn’t really innocent. But the ’50s — the Twinkie Era — do offer lessons that remain relevant in the 21st century. Above all, the success of the postwar American economy demonstrates that, contrary to today’s conservative orthodoxy, you can have prosperity without demeaning workers and coddling the rich.

Consider the question of tax rates on the wealthy. The modern American right, and much of the alleged center, is obsessed with the notion that low tax rates at the top are essential to growth. Remember that Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, charged with producing a plan to curb deficits, nonetheless somehow ended up listing “lower tax rates” as a “guiding principle.”

Yet in the 1950s incomes in the top bracket faced a marginal tax rate of 91, that’s right, 91 percent, while taxes on corporate profits were twice as large, relative to national income, as in recent years. The best estimates suggest that circa 1960 the top 0.01 percent of Americans paid an effective federal tax rate of more than 70 percent, twice what they pay today.

Nor were high taxes the only burden wealthy businessmen had to bear. They also faced a labor force with a degree of bargaining power hard to imagine today. In 1955 roughly a third of American workers were union members. In the biggest companies, management and labor bargained as equals, so much so that it was common to talk about corporations serving an array of “stakeholders” as opposed to merely serving stockholders.

Furthermore, Krugman argues that the road to prosperity is for the government to have massive tax increases and a unionized workforce:
Along the way, however, we’ve forgotten something important — namely, that economic justice and economic growth aren’t incompatible. America in the 1950s made the rich pay their fair share; it gave workers the power to bargain for decent wages and benefits; yet contrary to right-wing propaganda then and now, it prospered. And we can do that again.  

So there it is. The economy was prosperous because of high tax rates (the same rates Krugman told me in response to a question in 2004 that were "insane") and because labor unions were driving up the cost of doing business. Capital had nothing to do with it. The fact that the USA was the one industrialized nation that had not been on the receiving end of mass bombing and artillery attacks had nothing to do with it.

No, the prosperity of the 1950s (when at least a third of Americans officially lived in poverty) was due to massive wealth transfers. However, Krugman fails to point out that during this era, business owners and entrepreneurs did not have to deal with the massive influx of  government regulations at all levels, although I am sure that he would tell readers that had government been even more restrictive at that time, the economy would have prospered even more because higher costs of business translate into more wealth for owners of factors of production, and higher costs are the real source of prosperity.

Not surprisingly, Krugman misses a bit of history along the way. By the end of the 1970s, as these unsustainable policies of high taxes and inflation continued, the U.S. economy was in crisis, and the 1980 election occurred in that atmosphere. Far from creating the prosperity of the 1950s, these policies which Krugman praises led to less capitalization down the road, and when they reached their natural end, it was clear that much of the capital stock of this country was still stuck in the postwar decade while Japan and other nations had moved well past the ruins of the aftermath of World War II.

Paul Krugman's economic missives are full of fallacies, and his latest column is no exception. He employes the Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc Fallacy, not to mention the Broken Window Fallacy along with his belief that government policies can eliminate the Law of Opportunity Cost.

Yes, Krugman wants to do what all good Progressives claim is heresy -- "Turn Back the Clock" -- and his views are as mistaken as the notion that Twinkies really constitute health foods. I doubt seriously that if the government were to slap down even higher tax rates and force unionism on every firm that out of that would rise prosperity.

No, out of that would rise Argentina of the 1950s and 1960s, and we know how well that little experiment worked.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Krugman: Actually PRODUCING a High Standard of Living is a "Zombie" Idea

Like most Keynesians, Paul Krugman has no idea of how societies prosper. In his view, governments borrow, print, and then spend money and out of that comes, like magic, a prosperous economy. If times are hard, then spend even more and, like the Great Pumpkin, prosperity will rise out of the pumpkin patch.

Take his view of what should be done in Europe, for example, and especially for Greece and Spain. As he has written on numerous occasions, instead of facing the fact that the economies of those two nations cannot produce enough wealth in order to support their bloated unionized government workforces and sustain their ridiculous work rules for private employers. Greece and Spain are in trouble not because they are on the euro, but rather because they used the financial and monetary arrangements of the European Union in a way that was not sustainable.

Now, I agree that most "austerity" packages are wrongheaded because the state swallows much of the GDP of the affected nation and then directs that money to the banks (or, as some libertarians call them, "banksters") that foolishly lent money to those nations for things that ultimately went bust, or to pay for simple operating expenses of the various governments. However, there is another aspect of economics and economies that Krugman not only refuses to admit, but belittles it at every turn: societies that consume much also produce much, and that production is the source of their consumption.

To Paul Krugman, such a notion -- that an economy actually has to produce a standard of living -- is a "zombie idea." Every good Keynesian knows that consumption actually creates production, that one consumes first and then produces later. And, no, Keynesian "demand" is NOT the same kind of demand which entrepreneurs anticipate as they try to move resources from lower-valued to higher-valued uses. Keynesian "demand" is nothing more than new money or wealth transfers being directed to politically-connected people who ostensibly will "spend" that money, and out of which is supposed to come general prosperity. Anything to the contrary is nothing more than "Say's Law," which everyone knows has been discredited. (I mean, people really believe that we can have consumption without production? Get real!)

And so, he demands that Congress, the president, and governments at state and local levels ratchet up their spending, and if the economy is not producing enough wealth to pay the taxes necessary to support this blizzard of spending, no worry. Why? The government can manipulate the Federal Reserve Act of 1913 to permit the Fed to purchase U.S. treasuries in the primary market, so if need be, there would be no barriers at all to vast new amounts of spending and if the shower of new money creates an inflationary environment, all the better! Inflation, as Krugman has written, is a great tool for "deleveraging," which in his view would transfer wealth from rich to the poor.

(For those who insist that Krugman is not an apostle of inflation, note that he strongly endorses the views of Mark Thoma, who is a hardcore inflationist. Like so many other Keynesians, Thoma believes that all it takes is for government to inject new money, which will solve problems painlessly and put the economy back on track. The only problem, people like Thoma and Krugman claim, is that governments are too reluctant to aggressively debase their currencies. The "Inflation Fairy" is hard at work.)

So, yes, do you believe that government wealth transfers are a cost and not a boon to the economy? Do you believe that over time, a nation cannot consume more than it produces? Then you, too, are a "zombie." Wear that moniker proudly.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Krugman: Debt? What Debt?

On occasion, I find myself partially agreeing with Paul Krugman and his most recent column attacking Republicans (yeah, I know, that's a rare thing) on their "concern" about the federal budget deficit deserves at least one cheer. I am wearied of Republicans expressing concern about deficits at a time when they are calling for massive increases in military spending.

Now, Krugman does not mention that point at all in his column, instead claiming that the deficit hawks only want to starve the poor and elderly, deny them any medical care, and force them to sleep under bridges. He does not put things in quite that language, but that is the gist of what he is saying. But, then, this is someone who actually believes that government welfare programs increase wealth because they bring about instant spending, and everyone knows that saving money and investing in capital is evil and brings down the economy.

(Krugman's capital theory seems to be another rendition of "Capital Happens" in which capital magically appears in our economy.)

So, let us look at Krugman in his own words:
At a time of mass unemployment and record-low borrowing costs, a time when economic theory said we needed more, not less, deficit spending, the scolds convinced most of our political class that deficits rather than jobs should be our top economic priority.
 Keep in mind that in Wonderland, when the Federal Reserve System pushes down interest rates to artificially-low levels, that has ONLY good effects. After all, the Laws of Wonderland dictate what we should believe about economic growth and the economy in general:
  • Saving is evil and only suppresses economic growth
  • We should use all means to confiscate savings either through inflation or outright taxation because we need to spend everything we make in the present
  • Don't worry about capital formation because "Capital Happens"
  • Anything that encourages present spending is good, and anything that requires any present abstinence from spending right now is evil and must not be permitted
  • The only real benefit we might get from capital formation is in present spending for capital goods.
Given that Krugman already has called for the Fed to finance present government spending via Fed purchases of federal debt in the primary market, we know where this whole thing is headed. In fact, as Krugman says, our problem right now is that the federal debt needs to be greater, as we need to borrow trillions of dollars more:
And just to be clear, the danger for next year is not that the deficit will be too large but that it will be too small, and hence plunge America back into recession.
 The last statement really should leave us in a quandary, for earlier in this column, Krugman attacked the "tax cuts for the wealthy" (or what we call Democratic talking points) as helping to create deficit conditions. However, given that we need larger deficits, why raise tax rates at all? If we can borrow at no appreciable opportunity cost -- And what self-respective Keynesian ever would think that government spending always trumps the Law of Scarcity? -- why should we worry if tax rates are "too low"?

As Krugman declares:
This wouldn’t be hard if they had been making a more honest case on the budget: the truth is that deficits are actually a good thing when the economy is deeply depressed, so deficit reduction should wait until the economy is stronger. As John Maynard Keynes said three-quarters of a century ago, “The boom, not the slump, is the right time for austerity.”
 So, Krugman seems to be operating at cross purposes with himself. Using his own logic, it would be stupid to raise income taxes on anyone or to jack up taxes on investment because deficits during a depression are "a good thing." But we have to remember that "Krugman Logic" is not based upon economics, but rather on left-wing politics.

Friday, November 9, 2012

No, Military Keynesianism Does Not Make Us Wealthier

In his latest column, Paul Krugman continues to shill for higher tax rates, claiming that raising taxes somehow will strengthen the economy. I really don't have the time to deal with arguments that we have gone over before, so I will leave it at that. And, yes, Barack Obama won. The economy soon will explode with 12 million new jobs. Bill Clinton said that in a campaign speech, so it must be true.

Instead, I wish to look at a November 4 op-ed in the NYT, "The Permanent Militarization of America," by Aaron B. O'Connell, who teaches history at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. O'Connell writes that to a certain extent, Dwight Eisenhower's famous warning about the "Military-Industrial Comples" in his farewell speech in January 1961. However, writes O'Connell, much of the government spending in defense has had a positive economic effect and has contributed to economic growth:
The military-industrial complex has not emerged in quite the way Eisenhower envisioned. The United States spends an enormous sum on defense — over $700 billion last year, about half of all military spending in the world — but in terms of our total economy, it has steadily declined to less than 5 percent of gross domestic product from 14 percent in 1953. Defense-related research has not produced an ossified garrison state; in fact, it has yielded a host of beneficial technologies, from the Internet to civilian nuclear power to GPS navigation. The United States has an enormous armaments industry, but it has not hampered employment and economic growth. In fact, Congress’s favorite argument against reducing defense spending is the job loss such cuts would entail.
At one level, he is right. Some new technologies that were developed for the armed forces have found their ways to civilian uses, but the story is much different than what he might think. First, new technologies by themselves are not useful to the economy at large unless entrepreneurs can find a way to integrate these technologies into goods and services that individuals not only find useful, but are willing to give up scarce things in their possession in order to obtain.

Without the entrepreneurial component, vaunted new technologies tend either to be unused or applied in very esoteric ways that have little or no effect upon the general population. Take the Internet, for example. A lot of people have reminded me that government agents developed the first elements of what we know today as the Internet more than 40 years ago. That is true, but also irrelevant.

First, the Internet would not have been invented had entrepreneurs not first developed and applied what we know as telecommunications. I'm sorry folks, but Alexander Graham Bell and those who followed him were not working for the Department of War or Defense. Second, the Internet as we know it was of no commercial or economic use until entrepreneurs both developed and applied technologies like fiber optics and they developed mechanisms by which ordinary people could access what now is a technological and commercial wonder.

Furthermore, O'Connell's claim that this vast amount of government spending "has not hampered employment and economic growth" is one of those "proving a negative" statements. What he really is saying is that since the U.S. economy has been relatively strong since Eisenhower's speech, the diversion of huge amounts of resources from marketable uses to military spending has had no negative economic effects.

One cannot make that statement, economically speaking. First, we don't know if the economy would be stronger than it is now (I believe that it would) had this spending not occurred. Second, for O'Connell to be correct, military spending would have to have moved ALL factors of production from lower-valued to higher-valued uses in all situations involving Pentagon expenditures. If that is not true, then military spending has made us worse off.

No, I am not arguing for complete cessation of military spending. Certainly keeping this country from being invaded is a good use of resources, but that has not been the case with the USA for a long, long time. And, as O'Connell unwittingly notes, members of Congress are violently opposed to cutting any spending in their districts or states because that means some people there lose their jobs, at least in the short run.

But government employment is not the same as economic growth, even if O'Connell cannot see that (and few history professors these days are able to move beyond their own socialistic views). As for the rest of the article, I agree much with him, but I also find it interesting that he completely left out the militarization of the civilian police forces, and the militarization of the enforcement arms of federal agencies.

In fact, other than having our living standards lowered by gargantuan military spending, the one way we will come in meaningful contact with militarization is an encounter with the police. Why am I not surprised that a history professor missed that important point? You supply your own answer.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Krugman the Political Operative

Paul Krugman is a True Believer in FEMA, or at least FEMA run by Democrats. Despite the many news stories of chaos and violence in New York and New Jersey following the ravages of Hurricane Sandy (which only was a Category 1 hurricane, whereas Katrina was a Category 3), Krugman insists that the True Believing Obama administration's version of FEMA has performed magnificently.

(One can hear Krugman telling Obama, "You've done a heckuva job.)

Not satisfied with assuming that the damage to the New York area was comparable to much of New Orleans being flooded after a canal levee collapsed (Sorry, Paul, not even close), he then tells an outright falsehood regarding the response to the tragedy in Hoboken:
I could do a point-by-point — and it’s definitely worth it, if you’re curious, to revisit the 2005 Katrina timeline to get a sense of just how bad the response really was. But for me the difference is summed up in two images. One is the nightmare at the New Orleans convention center, where thousands were stranded for days amid inconceivable squalor, an outrage that all of America watched live on TV, but to which top officials seemed oblivious. The other is the scene in flooded Hoboken, with the National Guard moving in the day after the storm struck to deliver food and water and rescue stranded residents.
In other words, the National Guard immediately took care of things. (By the way, the National Guard and even FEMA were on the ground quickly in New Orleans, but government agents there acted like government agents, telling Wal-Mart its deliveries of thousands of bottles of water was "not needed," and forcing rescue workers to undergo two days of "sexual harassment" prevention training. One would think Krugman would approve, given he hates Wal-Mart and loves government haranguing of private citizens.)

Notice that Krugman did not mention Staten Island, where apparently FEMA did not perform its Krugmanesque heroics and chaos reigns as people cannot find food or anything else. Nor does he mention the gas shortages created by price controls, but Krugman is not much for prices, anyway, unless they are part of an index.

His biggest howler comes with his lavish praise of Bill Clinton's FEMA. He writes:
...Bill Clinton came in, put FEMA under professional management, and saw the agency’s reputation restored.
James Bovard would beg to differ. In his outstanding book, Feeling Your Pain, in which he chronicles the abuses and exploits of Clinton's administration, Bovard devotes an entire chapter to FEMA, which, contra Krugman, had the largest percentage of political appointees of any federal agency and handed out post-disaster checks, whether people wanted them or not. An Amazon review says:
His chapter on disaster relief is especially good, showing how the Federal Emergency Management Agency is "determined to spend tax dollars to rescue citizens, regardless of how irresponsible or negligent they have been and regardless of whether they have requested help."
Krugman's column is not so much a piece about federal agencies but rather is just another partisan political screed. He also forgets something else, and that is the brunt of Katrina did not hit New Orleans but rather the Gulf Coast of Mississippi and Alabama. In those areas, the FEMA presence was not as noticeable and, not surprisingly, the Gulf Coast recovered more quickly than did New Orleans.

You see, huge numbers of private volunteers, church groups, and other citizens went to the Gulf Coast to help, something that Krugman ignores because, after all, these people were not in the employ of the government, which means they are irrelevant and useless. As for New Orleans, the government told volunteers to get lost.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Maybe Obama Doesn't Believe in Government, Either

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, a storm that not only washed away New York and New Jersey neighborhoods but also dumped about three feet of snow where I live, cutting power lines and wreaking general havoc, I have come to a conclusion regarding the response of the U.S. Government and specifically the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA): Barack Obama just does not have enough faith in government.

How would I draw that conclusion? Following the disaster in New Orleans from Hurricane Katrina (which was a Category 3 storm), Krugman said that the federal government's response was bad because the Bush administration was filled with people who don't believe in government:
... the federal government's lethal ineptitude wasn't just a consequence of Mr. Bush's personal inadequacy; it was a consequence of ideological hostility to the very idea of using government to serve the public good. For 25 years the right has been denigrating the public sector, telling us that government is always the problem, not the solution. Why should we be surprised that when we needed a government solution, it wasn't forthcoming?
 So, Krugman had an explanation as to why FEMA was incompetent in New Orleans. However, now that the Obama administration's response to the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy (a Category 1 that quickly weakened into a tropical storm) has been exposed as utterly inept, so far there is silence from the Great Man at Princeton. After all, there is no ideological barrier keeping FEMA from being the Super Agency Krugman has claimed it should be (and allegedly was under Bill Clinton), so why the failure?

While it should be logical to an economist (except Krugman, who is not an economist, but rather a political operative who can do math), centralized government planning in which agents from Washington dictate policy to people who actually have more information is a loser from the beginning. Furthermore, the so-called price-gouging laws are responsible not only for horrific shortages but also discourage entrepreneurs from bringing supplies into the stricken areas, which means the recovery takes longer.

(Krugman is a Keynesian, and Keynesians really don't worry about price controls since everyone knows that prices really don't matter, except when they can be put into indices so that Keynesians can put them on the vertical axis of the Aggregate Demand--Aggregate Supply graphs.)

So, we can say that governments at all levels are involved in the aftermath of the storm, with FEMA taking the lead. And we can see how this is working. Not very well. I guess Obama just doesn't believe enough in the power of the State to work miracles. He needs to make a call to Princeton -- if the lines are not still down.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Krugman the Extremist (and Distorian to Boot)

Goldstein might win! Goldstein might win! He wants to destroy our economy, deny us healthcare, and put all of us into misery!

So rants Paul Krugman today. And to go along with his rant that taxes might be too low, he gives us some bad history. He writes:
During the first two years of Mr. Obama’s presidency, when Democrats controlled both houses of Congress, Republicans offered scorched-earth opposition to anything and everything he proposed. Among other things, they engaged in an unprecedented number of filibusters, turning the Senate — for the first time — into a chamber in which nothing can pass without 60 votes.
 There is a problem with this bit of history, however: the Democrats had a huge majority in the House and a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, or at least from June, 2009, until early January, 2011. (The 60th Democrat came after Al Franken stole, er, won the election in Minnesota.)

So, there essentially was no Republican opposition in the first two years of Obama's presidency, contra Krugman and nothing in the way of Obama imposing his agenda, which he did with a vengeance. Furthermore, his regulatory agencies, and especially the EPA, engaged in a "Crucify Them" strategy against business owners, or at least that is what one of the key EPA regulators bragged to a friendly group before his speech found its way onto the Internet and the public outcry cost him his job.

But Krugman is not satisfied with giving a dishonest political history of the Obama years. No, he also adds this gem:
If President Obama is re-elected, health care coverage will expand dramatically, taxes on the wealthy will go up and Wall Street will face tougher regulation. If Mitt Romney wins instead, health coverage will shrink substantially, taxes on the wealthy will fall to levels not seen in 80 years and financial regulation will be rolled back.
 Now, I am not exactly sure how a medical program with what Krugman admitted contained the infamous "death panels" and piles on the government paperwork -- complete with draconian criminal penalties for doctors who don't properly dot every "i" and cross every "t" -- is going to "dramatically" expand healthcare coverage. Yes, it might on paper, but in the real world -- where people have to see doctors and actually get care -- that is not going to happen. ObamaCare has not magically altered the production function, nor has it lowered opportunity costs, which means that this new set of laws is not going to do what Krugman claims.

A real economist would know that instinctively. A real economist also would know instinctively that making it more difficult to invest, making it more difficult to build something, and moving factors of production from higher-valued to lower-valued uses through political subsidies and outright intimidation is not going to result in a better economy.

I am not a Mitt Romney supporter and if he is elected, neither he nor Congress will be willing to do what is necessary to bring this economy back to real growth mode. Instead, President Romney (unlike Candidate Romney) will lean on Ben Bernanke to have the Fed try to inflate us into recovery, which is not going to happen.

But, then, Paul Krugman is not an economist. He is a political operative, period.