In his latest column, Paul Krugman combines a relatively true statement about the current state of economic affairs -- long-term joblessness is becoming chronic -- with a non-sequitur. First, he comments upon the desperate situation that has become normal for many people, and second, he then blames it on a paper published a few years ago by a couple of economists:
Well, the famous red line on debt, it turns out, was an artifact of dubious statistics, reinforced by bad arithmetic. And America isn’t and can’t be Greece, because countries that borrow in their own currencies operate under very different rules from those that rely on someone else’s money. After years of repeated warnings that fiscal crisis is just around the corner, the U.S. government can still borrow at incredibly low interest rates.Understand what Krugman is saying. As long as the USA can print money and borrow from the Federal Reserve, then Americans don't have to worry about how much debt the government piles up and how much money the Fed prints. The Debt Fairy and the Inflation Fairy will sprinkle magic dust and do what no fairy before has been able to do: conjure up a real economic recovery by encouraging the very kind of economic behavior that put this country into the mess in the first place.
But while debt fears were and are misguided, there’s a real danger we’ve ignored: the corrosive effect, social and economic, of persistent high unemployment. And even as the case for debt hysteria is collapsing, our worst fears about the damage from long-term unemployment are being confirmed.
Lest anyone think I exaggerate, Krugman himself qualifies the points I have made:
And let’s be clear: this is a policy decision. The main reason our economic recovery has been so weak is that, spooked by fear-mongering over debt, we’ve been doing exactly what basic macroeconomics says you shouldn’t do — cutting government spending in the face of a depressed economy.First things first. U.S. debt today stands at roughly 105 percent of current GDP, and only about 40 percent of current spending is financed via taxation. This is not "austerity" by any definition of the word, and one can bet that the next time the debt ceiling issue comes to the fore, Congress and the president -- after yet another dog-and-pony show complete with the Usual Suspects giving their usual talking points -- will come to an agreement. This number will grow, although it won't grow fast enough for Krugman.
It’s hard to overstate how self-destructive this policy is. Indeed, the shadow of long-term unemployment means that austerity policies are counterproductive even in purely fiscal terms. Workers, after all, are taxpayers too; if our debt obsession exiles millions of Americans from productive employment, it will cut into future revenues and raise future deficits.
Our exaggerated fear of debt is, in short, creating a slow-motion catastrophe. It’s ruining many lives, and at the same time making us poorer and weaker in every way. And the longer we persist in this folly, the greater the damage will be.
Furthermore, Krugman fails to point out that the Obama administration has been relentless in trying to drive the U.S. economy in a direction in which vast amounts of resources are being used to push economic frauds like "green energy" and even another housing boom. In other words, it is more of the same. The government places huge burdens upon entrepreneurs who wish to operate in a relatively free market and drives resources into destructive "Crony Capitalism," as though policies that enrich contributors to Obama and the Political Classes will translate into general prosperity.
Keynesians are fond of claiming that as long as we have "idle resources," this is a wise policy, as at some point, if the Debt Fairy and Inflation Fairy sprinkle enough magic dust, all of these "idle resources" will awaken like Snow White after the kiss from the prince and come to life again. This is an amazing claim, for it is saying that when the economy is depressed, the Law of Scarcity can be ignored.
Yes, Keynesians believe that if only government spends enough and borrows enough, that we can emerge from this morass, and that the only thing standing in the way of progress is the presence of Goldstein -- I now dub him "Scoldstein" -- telling us we need to put something in our piggy banks. We can spend our way into another boom, and when that boom collapses -- as it surely will -- we just invoke the incantations of the Twin Fairies and begin another ride into the sunrise.