In his latest column, Krugman promotes a number of false points and I will deal with some of them. Before looking at the substantive claims (the federal budget deficit has been "solved"), I'd like to begin with one his use of a deceitful term, "nonpartisan." He writes:
Recently the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities took Congressional Budget Office projections for the next decade and updated them to take account of two major deficit-reduction actions: the spending cuts agreed to in 2011, amounting to almost $1.5 trillion over the next decade; and the roughly $600 billion in tax increases on the affluent agreed to at the beginning of this year. What the center finds is a budget outlook that, as I said, isn’t great but isn’t terrible: It projects that the ratio of debt to G.D.P., the standard measure of America’s debt position, will be only modestly higher in 2022 than it is now.(Emphasis mine)Sorry, Paul, but even your employer, the NYT, describes the CBPP as "left-leaning," the Times is not the only one to make that claim.Let's try Time, The Washington Post, and The National Journal, with none of them being considered "right-wing." What Krugman means by "nonpartisan" is that the CBPP does not officially endorse political candidates, but it clearly shills for Barack Obama and the Democrats in general.
For that matter, given Krugman's definition of "nonpartisan," he would have to claim the Heritage Foundation and Cato Institute are "nonpartisan," given that neither of them endorse actual candidates. Of course, one already knows what he thinks of those two organizations and considers them to be shills for the Republican Party. Yes, this is a small point, but once again we see how Krugman likes to play fast-and-loose with the truth.
On to the meat of the column itself. He writes:
Consider, for example, the case of Social Security. There was a case for paying down debt before the baby boomers began to retire, making it easier to pay full benefits later. But George W. Bush squandered the Clinton surplus on tax cuts and wars, and that window has closed. At this point, “reform” proposals are all about things like raising the retirement age or changing the inflation adjustment, moves that would gradually reduce benefits relative to current law. What problem is this supposed to solve?Assume that Al Gore had taken the office (and I am sure that Krugman would claim that he rightfully won it) and had left tax rates where they were. Would there have been deficits in the next few years? I suspect the "Clinton surplus" still would have disappeared for one important reason: the Tech Bubble popped in 2000 and a recession followed in 2001. Krugman writes: "It’s true that right now we have a large federal budget deficit. But that deficit is mainly the result of a depressed economy...." However, he wants us to assume that the reason we had deficits in 2001 and 2002 was that Congress lowered the top income tax rate from 39.6 percent to 35 percent...in 2003.
This is more of the "head I win, tails you lose" method that Krugman uses for his arguments. Now, I agree with him that Bush's wars cost this economy plenty (I don't believe that the economy will "benefit" from "weaponized Keynesianism" and spoke out against these wars from the beginning), but there also is another point that Krugman does not make: the source of larger tax revenues in the late 1990s versus the Housing Boom.
The Tech Bubble centered upon the stock markets and, not surprisingly, we saw a huge increase in the nominal amounts of taxes coming from capital gains during the second Clinton presidential term. In fact, at the end of 2000, capital gains receipts were $80 billion more than they were at the end of 1996. The following financial post also makes it clear that capital gains receipts fell sharply during the Bush years. (Capital gains rates were cut during the second Clinton term, yet they still rose, which surely must vex Keynesians, since they seem to believe such things are not possible.)
You'd better believe we pay careful attention to capital gains here. Friday, the Congressional Budget Office released an analysis of the rise and fall of federal individual income tax revenues from 1994 through 2004. It showed that capital gains accounted for half of the non-legislative changes to individual income tax revenues over the period. Ironically, capital gains revenues increased 0.7% of GDP from 1994 through 2000 under President Clinton, and they fell 0.6% of GDP from 2000 to 2004 under President Bush.They didn't fall because rates were cut; rather, they fell because people were not getting huge gains from "flipping" stocks after the Tech binge came to an end. Furthermore, a much different tax regime falls upon capital gains from the sale of houses, which means that the government was not able to cash in on the Fed's recycled dollars during the Housing Boom as it had done a decade earlier when the Clinton Bubble was on the rise.
Krugman, not surprisingly, leaves out that tidbit because it doesn't fit his narrative. Now, I will agree that deficit reduction should not be at the top of the agenda, but for different reasons than Krugman gives. He correctly points out that the depressed economy is responsible for much of the current deficit, although to him that is a good sign:
It’s true that right now we have a large federal budget deficit. But that deficit is mainly the result of a depressed economy — and you’re actually supposed to run deficits in a depressed economy to help support overall demand.Unfortunately, throughout the piece Krugman trots out his "heads I win, tails you lose" logic. Government spending now is good; but cutting tax rates during a downturn is bad. (The economy was in recession shortly after Bush took office, and Democrats tried to claim that his talking about the recession and his campaign to cut tax rates was the cause of the recession.) The deficit is bad, but not so bad, and if the government inflates the currency, creates more jobs for bureaucrats and keeps entrepreneurs from starting new enterprises, and if the government continues to pay vast subsidies to politically-favored businesses (especially those in "green energy"), then out of that will come a real recovery.
I'm not sure how that will happen, but Krugman believes it will. Enough said.