A few days ago Paul Krugman wrote a not-very-exciting post at his blog “The Conscience of a Liberal.” The point of the post was that right wingers have not been as successful in their efforts to hype fake scandals during the Obama administration as they were in the Clinton years. Krugman writes:
When Barack Obama was elected, I was sure that it would be the Clinton years all over — that he would be subjected to an endless series of claims of “scandal”, creating the sense of a tainted administration even though all the alleged scandals would turn out to be either trivial or nonexistent. Remember, after all those years of front-page headlines and $70 million in public funds, the Whitewater investigation came up dry.
In fact, however, none of that happened during Obama’s first term. But would the second term be different? For a little while it looked as if the old scandal machinery was finally springing back to life, with Benghazi, the IRS, and more. You could almost hear the sigh of contentment from a certain part of the press corps.
Krugman’s post had nothing to do with the NSA leaks, Edward Snowden, or Glenn Greenwald; but he made the mistake of just barely mentioning the NSA story.
But now it has all evaporated. Benghazi never made sense; it turns out that the IRS was targeting conservative as well as liberal groups. And as Chait says in the linked article, the NSA stuff is a policy dispute, not the kind of scandal the right wing wants.
And today, Greenwald chose to sic his permanently outraged
shock troops fans on Krugman based on a deliberately obtuse reading of Krugman’s referencing Chait’s characterization of the NSA issue as a “policy dispute.” Here’s Greenwald’s take on it.
Defending the Obama administration, Paul Krugman pronounced that “the NSA stuff is a policy dispute, not the kind of scandal the right wing wants.” Really? In what conceivable sense is this not a serious scandal? If you, as an American citizen, let alone a journalist, don’t find it deeply objectionable when top national security officials systematically mislead your representatives in Congress about how the government is spying on you, and repeatedly lie publicly about resulting political controversies over that spying, what is objectionable? If having the NSA engage in secret, indiscriminate domestic spying that warps if not outright violates legal limits isn’t a “scandal”, then what is?
Of course it was really Jonathan Chait who made the distinction between “scandals” and “policy disputes.” Here’s what Chait wrote about it:
Obama’s prosecution of leaks, or use of the National Security Agency — is not a scandal at all. It’s a policy controversy. One can argue that Obama’s policy stance is wrong, or dangerous, or a threat to democracy. But when the president is carrying out duly passed laws and acting at every stage with judicial approval, then the issue is the laws themselves, not misconduct.
And of course it’s really Chait with whom Greenwald is enraged; because Chait had the temerity to write a somewhat humorous column in which he noted the similarities between Greenwald and Ralph Nader–one of which is that each of these men was apparently born without a sense of humor.
But instead of attacking Chait, Greenwald picks a fight with Krugman, who really doesn’t need that right now since he’s grieving the lost of his father. It’s probably a low blow for me to bring that up, but I can’t believe Greenwald didn’t know it, since he apparently reads Greenwald’s blog.
Greenwald has been running around to any media outlet who will have him announcing that he’s got an upcoming “bombshell” scoop that “will shock the world.” I wish he’d just get busy and publish it instead of spending so much time hyping his stories and lecturing everyone about how to interpret Edward Snowden’s behavior.
I think today I’ve finally had enough of St. Glenn to last me the rest of my life.
I am grading essays and papers on currency crises (circa 1999-2002) and financial crises (the last one) and basically all those kinds of crises the tend to come from out of control speculation and the government encouraging the wrong kinds of things. This mostly happens because rich people donate to the campaigns of politicians and own newspapers and media outlets. Politicians want to get reelected and get more powerful and more rich. Rich businesses and investors want to get more powerful and rich. It’s kind of the perfect alignment of shared interests based on lust and greed and all the baser instincts. Isn’t it terrible when the facts get in the way? So, they just ignore them or consider them an alternative liberal opinion. It drives me nuts.
So, BB asked to me write something about what I research and teach and usually regurgitate to you. You know that the austerity narrative has theoretically fallen apart. Well, it’s also falling apart via the numbers, data, facts and reality So, let’s start out with some very bad, awful, terrible horrible Dubya Bush Policy 10 years ago and why tax cuts for the rich still don’t do good things for the economy or now, even the investment markets. This is written by economist Bruce Bartlett who was an adviser to the Reagan administration.
Ten years ago this month, Congress enacted the third major tax cut of the George W. Bush administration. Its centerpiece was a huge cut in the tax rate on dividends. Historically, they had been taxed as ordinary income, but the Bush plan, enacted by a Republican Congress, cut that rate to 15 percent. The tax rate on ordinary income went as high as 35 percent.
This initiative originated with the economist R. Glenn Hubbard, who had been chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers when the proposal was sent to Congress. Mr. Hubbard was a strong believer that the double taxation of corporate profits – first at the corporate level and again when paid out as dividends – was a major economic problem.
During the George H.W. Bush administration, Mr. Hubbard had been deputy assistant secretary of the Treasury for tax policy and wrote a Treasury report advocating full integration of the corporate and individual income taxes.
Mr. Hubbard had also spearheaded enactment of big tax cuts in 2001 and 2002 that he said would jump-start the American economy. In an op-ed article in The Washington Post on Nov. 16, 2001, he predicted that the soon-to-be-enacted 2002 tax cut, which President Bush signed on March 9, 2002, would “quickly deliver a boost to move the economy back toward its long-run growth path.”
Mr. Hubbard predicted that it would create 300,000 additional jobs in 2002 and add half a percentage point to the real gross domestic product growth rate.
There is no evidence that the tax cut had any such effect. The unemployment rate remained above 5.7 percent all year, rising to 5.9 percent in November and 6 percent in December. The real G.D.P. growth rate fell each quarter of 2002, and by the fourth quarter growth was at a standstill. Hence the need for yet another big tax cut.
The idea of the 2003 legislation was to raise dividend payouts, thereby bolstering personal income, and raise the prices of common stock, which would improve household balance sheets. As President Bush explained in his signing statement, “This will encourage more companies to pay dividends, which in itself will not only be good for investors but will be a corporate reform measure.” He also said the dividend tax cut would “increase the wealth effect around America and help our markets.”
The Treasury Department issued a fact sheet on July 30 asserting that the decline in dividends had been a cause of the weak stock market and noting that dividend payouts had risen since enactment of the tax cut on May 28.
Subsequent research, however, found that the increase in dividends was a short-term phenomenon and mainly at companies where stock options were a major form of executive compensation. A 2005 Federal Reserve Board study found that the United States stock market did not outperform European stock markets after the dividend cut. Nor did stocks qualifying for lower dividend taxes outperform those, such as real estate investment trusts, that did not qualify for lower dividend taxes. Non-dividend paying stocks slightly outperformed dividend-paying stocks, and many corporations that did pay higher dividends scaled back stock repurchases by a similar amount.
So, this is yet another example where Republican economic policy is totally out of step with outcomes, data, and reality. Yet, they keep repeating that it works the way it doesn’t work just because, remember, the agenda is greed, power, and more wealth to the already greedy, powerful and wealthy. The deal is they get it wrong, got it wrong, and continue to get it wrong but that doesn’t stop them from trying to weasel their way into a narrative that says, hey, this really isn’t wrong. There’s still some validity there and all economists must be liberals like Paul Krugman who are just talking up their philosophical line. Take austerity economics, please. I mean it. Take it and those idiots who push it to hell and leave them there. Still, the very serious people want to take this very seriously even when it is just plain seriously wrong. Take Michael Kinsley, please. He can report from Hell.
I’ve spent a rather alarming portion of this week wading into intellectual pissing matches, so I’m loath to respond to Michael Kinsley’s response to last week’s brouhaha over austerity policies. But one paragraph does merit some pushback. After noting the backlash to his last column, Kinsley writes the following:
There are two possible explanations. First, it might be that I am not just wrong (in saying that the national debt remains a serious problem and we’d be well advised to worry about it) but just so spectacularly and obviously wrong that there is no point in further discussion. Or second, to bring up the national debt at all in such discussions has become politically incorrect. To disagree is not just wrong but offensive. Such views do exist. Racism for example. I just didn’t realize that the national debt was one of them.
Kinsley assumes that it must be the second explanation, and then goes on from there.
I can’t speak for anyone else who pushed back against Kinsley’s column from last week. Speaking for myself, however, I blogged about it because Kinsley was “spectacularly and obviously wrong.” I say this because almost everything I wrote in my response to Kinsley I knew at age 18 after taking Economics 101 in college.
To explain, let me focus on Kinsley’s motivation for thinking that the austerians have a point:
Austerians believe, sincerely, that their path is the quicker one to prosperity in the longer run. This doesn’t mean that they have forgotten the lessons of Keynes and the Great Depression. It means that they remember the lessons of Paul Volcker and the Great Stagflation of the late 1970s. “Stimulus” is strong medicine—an addictive drug—and you don’t give the patient more than you absolutely have to.
This is wrong for three reasons, one pedantic and two substantive. First, to be pedantic, the austerity debate is about the wisdom of using expansionary fiscal policy — i.e., running a significant federal budget deficit — to alleviate downturns. Paul Volcker was the chairman of the Federal Reserve and thereby responsible for setting monetary policy. He had nothing to do with fiscal policy. This is a distinction that I learned in my first few lectures on macroeconomics. So either Kinsley phrased this badly or he’s confused about what this debate is about.
It just keeps coming down to the fact that most journalists and politicians simply do not know what they are talking about when it comes to economics. So, they assume an economist like Paul Krugman has a liberal bias on all things–including the color of the sky and the laws of gravity and demand–and they make the worse assumption that those arguing Republican policy these days must have a valid point when the only point is, yes, you know it … to deliver more wealth, power and influence to themselves and their friends that already have it. Some times a lie really is just a lie.
A wonderful example of the myopia of the deficit scolds…
The background is that Michael Kinsley wrote a particularly bad column last week about “austerity,” a key point of which was based on factually incorrect memories of what went wrong in the 1970s; as you can imagine, this earned him plenty of corrections and dismissals from people who used access to accurate economic and government policy statistics.
Kinsley was quite taken aback by this, apparently, and wrote a follow up to defend himself. Dan Drezner has already pointed out that Kinsley is still relying on the same inaccurate memories that got his first column into trouble, but I actually found a different part of Kinsley II more interesting, in which he thinks he’s caught Paul Krugman in a contradiction.
Paul Krugman takes credit for good economic news whenever it happens. On Krugman’s blog site (“The Conscience of a Liberal”) last week were two bits of prose side-by-side. One was an ad for his latest book, End This Depression Now! “How bad have things gotten?” the ad asks rhetorically.” How did we get stuck in what now can only be called a depression?” Right next door is Krugman’s gloat about the recent pretty-good economic news. “So where are the celebrations,” he asks, “now that the debt issue looks, if not solved, at least greatly mitigated?” Greatly mitigated? By what? Certainly not by anyone taking Paul Krugman’s advice. He has been, in his own self-estimate, a lone, ignored voice for reason crying out in an unreasoning universe.
What’s the problem? The linked post by Krugman isn’t a gloat about good economic news! It is, to be sure a gloat; it’s a gloat about deficits…Krugman goes so far as to call lower deficits “progress,” although as I read it he’s really just saying that lower deficits should be counted as progress from the point of view of the deficit scolds.
What’s happening here is that Kinsley is projecting onto Krugman a classic deficit scold mistake; Kinsley is conflating the federal budget deficit with the economy. Krugman isn’t doing that; it’s purely Kinsley’s invention.
It gets, however, to exactly why Kinsley was buried under a large pile of abuse after his first column. Well, in part; the other part, as Krugman notes elsewhere, is “the existence now of a policy blogosphere…which makes bluffing harder.” Say something factually inaccurate these days, and you’re going to get slammed; it seems that some pundits who preceded that development find it hard to get used to it.
I still have no idea why journalists feel they just know everything about economics compared to say, knowing everything about Brownian motion or performing brain surgery. It’s the same with politicians. They just seem to confuse a really complex subject that most people really struggle with in college and never take beyond that with something like a political science class or a journalism class. You don’t even get real economic stuff until you way up there in school. The introductory stuff is like the ABCs and they don’t even seem to grasp that. Anyway, stop confusing getting facts wrong with just another opinion …
Over the weekend, I came across this amazing story in The Daily Beast, and I just had to share it: An Auschwitz Survivor Searches for His Twin on Facebook. It’s the story of Menachem Bodner who was just four years old when the Nazi prison camp was liberated. He is now 72 and is now trying to find his twin brother whom he last saw when they were being used as experimental subjects by the infamous Josef Mengele.
It’s most likely that Menachem Bodner last saw his identical twin in 1945, in Dr. Josef Mengele’s gruesome Auschwitz laboratory. He was 4 then and doesn’t remember his time in the notorious death camp. But in the 68 years that have followed, Bodner says he’s “always” been certain he was one of a pair. He just didn’t have any proof until this past year. Now, he’s searching for Jeno, a man who probably looks just like him, and who has a distinctive “A-7734” tattoo on his forearm. And 1 million Facebook users are helping him look.
Mengele, known among prisoners as “the Angel of Death,” was deeply fascinated with twins and used them for research experiments in his macabre Auschwitz lab. Thankfully, Bodner, now 72, has no recollection of the cruelty he most certainly endured while undergoing experiments, though he can remember a sense of paralyzing fear. Unfortunately he also has few impressions of his family’s prewar life in a small town east of Munkacs, Hungary, which is now in the Ukraine. But despite the lack of memories from a war-marred childhood, Bodner says that throughout his life he’s felt a deep connection with his twin—and is positive he’s still alive and out there. But where?
Until last May, Bodner didn’t even know that his own name was once Elias Gottesmann. Now he knows that. And he knows for certain that he has a twin—thanks to the Nazis’ dogged, pathological documentation of their crimes. Ayana KimRon, a professional genealogist in Israel, found the evidence, clearly written in a record put together by the organization Candles, of twins who were “identified as having been liberated at Auschwitz or from a subcamp”:
A-7733, Gottesmann, Elias, 4
A-7734, Gottesmann, Jeno, 4
Incredible! As a result of his search, Bodner has already found family members that he never knew were looking for him, but his dream is to find his brother. What a story it would be if they could be reunited!
I don’t know if you have been following the latest episode in the ongoing battle between Joe Scarborough and Paul Krugman. Scarborough somehow got together with Jeffrey Sachs of The Earth Institute at Columbia University to publish an op-ed in the Washington Post last Friday: Deficits Do Matter. In the op-ed, they attacked Paul Krugman by setting up a series of straw men and then knocking them down–mainly the false claim that Krugman thinks deficits are never a problem for governments. Here’s the introductory paragraph:
Dick Cheney and Paul Krugman have declared from opposite sides of the ideological divide that deficits don’t matter, but they simply have it wrong. Reasonable liberals and conservatives can disagree on what role the federal government should play yet still believe that government should resume paying its way.
It has become part of Keynesian lore in recent years that public debt is essentially free, that we needn’t worry about its buildup and that we should devote all of our attention to short-term concerns since, as John Maynard Keynes wrote, “in the long run, we are all dead.” But that crude interpretation of Keynesian economics is deeply misguided; Keynes himself disagreed with it.
However, if you read Krugman piece that Sachs and Scarborough link to, you’ll see that it doesn’t say what they pretend it does. It says that deficits don’t matter in the short term, but it’s not true that they never matter. Krugman in the quoted column from March 2011:
Right now, deficits don’t matter — a point borne out by all the evidence. But there’s a school of thought — the modern monetary theory people — who say that deficits never matter, as long as you have your own currency.
I wish I could agree with that view — and it’s not a fight I especially want, since the clear and present policy danger is from the deficit peacocks of the right. But for the record, it’s just not right.
The key thing to remember is that current conditions — lots of excess capacity in the economy, and a liquidity trap in which short-term government debt carries a roughly zero interest rate — won’t always prevail. As long as those conditions DO prevail, it doesn’t matter how much the Fed increases the monetary base, and it therefore doesn’t matter how much of the deficit is monetized. But this too shall pass, and when it does, things will be very different.
I guess Sachs and Scarborough assumed their WaPo readers wouldn’t bother to click on the link. Anyway, Mark Thoma wrote an epic takedown of the Sachs-Scarborough op-ed at his Economist’s View blog: Crude Sachsism.
Frankly, I doubt that Scarborough had anything to do with writing the op-ed, and I think it would be really hilarious if someone would ask him to explain it on his show. Why is Scarborough so obsessed with proving Krugman wrong? As for Jeffrey Sachs, he is a follower of Milton Friedman and The Chicago School of Economics who is famous for his failed “Millennium Villages” project and his so-called “shock therapy” in Latin America, Russia, and Eastern Europe. Judge for yourself whether you want to buy into his neoliberal, modified supply-side arguments.
I know I’m kind of a weirdo, but I had a blast reading all this stuff over the weekend, including this post by Ryan Coooper (filling in for Ed Kilgore at The Washington Monthly) questioning why Sachs doesn’t even know what was in the stimulus.
Jeff Sachs has long been known as the celebrity-hobnobbing economist with the seriously flawed “shock therapy” plan for economic development. Lately he’s taken a weird turn in the public debate, coauthoring an op-ed piece with Joe Scarborough of all people, attacking Paul Krugman.
Today he’s back with one of the most bizarre pieces of economic analysis I’ve seen, arguing among other things that 1) the stimulus was too focused on short-term stuff like tax cuts which 2) aren’t effective stimulus anyway (huh?) and 3) should have had much more long-term investment.
Wrong again! Read all about it at the link.
The back and forth quieted down yesterday, but today Cooper–who is filling in for Ed Kilgore at The Washington Monthly–brought it up again with this post: How Does Jeffrey Sachs Explain The Great Recession?
I need to read it carefully and follow the links and responses to today–my idea of fun! I guess it’s partly the psychologist in me–I’m fascinated by these human interactions and the verbal battles over important issues of the day.
Continuing the economics theme, Alex Pareene has a great piece at Salon on The competitive advantage of deficit hacks. It’s all about how the media helps the false Village memes and tries to marginalize people like Paul Krugman who actually know something about economics. The gist:
I think a lot about contemporary political debates makes a great deal more sense when you realize that hacks, especially hacks shilling for awful ideas, have a competitive advantage over non-hacks: They do not care if they constantly repeat themselves, even if what they are constantly repeating is wrong.
For a writer or pundit who actually feels some sort of responsibility to inform and/or entertain his or her readers, writing the same damn thing over and over again seems wrong (it is also boring). But bad ideas are constantly being repeated by people who feel absolutely no shame about saying the same things over and over and over again. Indeed, “shamelessness” is in general a defining characteristic of hacks. Also, frequently, people are being paid to repeat the same awful ideas over and over again, and unfortunately usually there’s more money to be made repeating bad ideas than good ones. (Hence: Lanny Davis.)
Arguably, American conservatives are better at sticking to their pet causes in general, as liberals move from fight to fight. Look at how contraception “suddenly” became a matter of national public debate last year, years after liberals thought it a well-settled question. Or look at how long the movement spent trying to roll back the majority of the New Deal, a project that continues to this day!
And on the question of the deficit and the “grand bargain,” Pete Peterson and a few others have spent hundreds of millions of dollars and decades of their lives making the exact same argument, and setting up organizations that pay others to make the exact same argument, until a majority of Beltway centrists internalized the argument and began making it themselves, over and over again. When it comes to centrist pundits, the unsophisticated brainwashing technique that has utterly failed to move the public at large over the last 25 years has worked perfectly. (Because centrist pundits are simple, credulous people, by and large, and also because they will not rely on “entitlements” to survive, when they retire from their very well-compensated jobs.)
Plus— another must read from Alex Pareene: The undead, unnecessary, unhelpful Grand Bargain.
Washington has Grand Bargain fever, again. Thanks to the sequestration, Republican government-shrinking mania and Barack Obama’s apparently sincere desire to get some sort of huge long-term debt deal done, the Grand Bargain is looking more possible than at any point since the heady days of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility.
For some reason, the options for dealing with sequestration — a self-inflicted made-up austerity crisis — are being purposefully and pointlessly limited to a) spending cuts, either those in sequestration or different ones, or b) spending cuts and tax increases. “Let’s just not do this, everyone” is rarely presented as a viable option. Instead, the single best end result, according to lots of pundits, Democrats and even Republicans, is tthe Mythical Grand Bargain.
This is awful news, for most people. A “grand bargain” is not going to be good. But after Barack Obama had fancy dinners with some Republicans last week, everyone is again hopeful. The president is hopeful. John Boehner is hopeful. David Gergen is probably hopeful. They can all taste the Bargain. Ooh, it’ll be so great when we get that Bargain!
Read it, and you’ll laugh and cry at the same time!
Now a few more reads that tickled my fancy–in link dump fashion:
Cleveland Plain Dealer: Steubenville rape trial will center on issue of consent
New York Daily News: Mike Bloomberg’s supersized ego does in planned soda ban
Now it’s your turn. What’s on your reading list today? Please share your links in the comments.
Have a fabulous Tuesday!!
Some one needs to take the shovel away from Joe Scarborough. He’s about ready to wind up in Siberia with that hole he’s digging himself. I’ve never seen such obsessive compulsive self-destructive behavior. The man cannot admit he’s wrong and knows nothing about economics. He also doesn’t appear to know the difference between an economist and a lawyer and a foreign policy expert. I expect that one of these days he’ll have heart failure then go to his Politico blog to instruct another lawyer on how to do his surgery correctly. Maybe, he’ll start giving lectures on the origins of the universe to Neil Degrasse Tyson next.
Who knew one man could become apoplectic convincing every one he wasn’t beaten up in a one-sided match of wits by Nobel Prize Winning Economist and ubernerd Paul Krugman over 2 weeks ago? He’s written the second of two “I know you are, but what am I?” blog threads at Politico in two days. What Scarboroughs’s become is your run-of-the-mill internet troll who is now blog stalking Dr. Krugman. Only “Tiger Beat on the Potomac” would continue to give this pathetic man a platform for what looks like a developing psychological disorder. We thought he’d over done it on Nate Silver and the presidential poll analysis. But, nope, he’s back and convinced he knows enough about investment and econometrics to analyze the whims of investors.
Yesterday’s Scarborough rant was so bad and so wrong, I actually stepped into it. Scarborough relentlessly insists that Krugman is wrong and that all the rest of us economists think he’s wrong too. To prove his point and to try to get back for being shown up on his show, Mourning Joe used an article written by Princeton economist and Paul Krugman colleague Alan Blinder. The only problem is that Blinder is basically saying the same thing Krugman’s been saying all along. Scarborough not only proved Krugman’s point, he totally missed the point–and the headline–of the Blinder article as well as ascribing the article to the wrong publication. Mourning Joe must’ve read only a sentence and ignored the rest. Does that first sentence not read “Today, there is no deficit crisis” or do I need to up my script for my reading glasses?
Today, there is no deficit crisis. Tomorrow, there will be no deficit crisis. But in ten years, we will have a massive problem of exploding health care costs. Now that’s a crisis to worry about.
But the same could not be said of a fabulously misleading Business Insider post that claimed to list 11 economists who shared Krugman’s debt-denying views. Never mind the fact that most of the links provided actually undercut Krugman’s reckless position and supported my view that the most pressing fiscal crisis is not next year’s deficit but next decade’s debt.
The Business Insider link to an Alan Blinder piece was particularly supportive of the “Morning Joe” panel’s view. Blinder, a former Fed vice chairman and Princeton economics professor, warned of “truly horrific problems” caused by long-term debt, health care costs and interest on the debt. Paul Krugman’s Princeton colleague even shared my conclusion that the coming Medicare crisis will be so great that Democrats won’t be able to tax their way out of it.
Far from supporting Mr. Krugman’s extreme position, the link to Professor Blinder’s New Yorker article undercuts his Princeton colleague’s exaggerated “In-the-end-we’ll-all-be-dead” approach to U.S. long-term debt.
Then he added a short list of noneconomists--including Ed Rendell who is paid lobbyist for deficit hawk group Fix the Debt associated with Simpson & EB who make about $40,000 a speech as travelling austerians–as proof that all economists think Krugman is as extreme on economics as Wayne LaPierre is on gun safety laws. Considering Krugman’s name resides on a well-known trade model, he’s published in just about every prestigious peer-reviewed journal possible, and he’s got one of the best-selling set of text books in the country right now, I’d say Joe just won’t admit he’s way out of his league. Krugman calls Scarborough desperate. Frankly, he gone way beyond that to pathetic to me.
First up, the sad story of Joe Scarborough, whose response to my anti-austerian appearance on his show has been a bizarre campaign to convince the world that absolutely nobody of consequence shares my views. Why is this bizarre? Because while I could be wrong about macroeconomics (although I’m not), it’s just not true, provably not true, that I’m alone in arguing that the current and near-future deficit aren’t problems.
I actually wrote about all of this over two weeks ago (1/30/2013) when the incident first happened, so it seems all deja vu to be at this again. But let me tie this to a bigger problem again. Hillary Clinton left the Benghazi hearings uttering something profound. These hearings were some of the more bizarre things I’d ever watched until the Hagel hearings started and the obsession with conspiracy theories went nuclear. Clinton said some ‘‘just will not live in an evidence-based world’. This includes Joe Scarborough who thinks his “analysis” in his latest little short blog blurb shows Krugman as being wrong, wrong wrong. This is what he thinks is a “TA DA”! moment. I would expect better analysis from Macro 101 students. I would also expect any student in basic statistics or econometrics to have a hey day with his methodology which doesn’t even broach the high school level. But, he’s real proud of it and thinks it puts Krugman in his place.
Investors may be growing skittish about U.S. government debt levels and the disordered state of U.S. fiscal policymaking.
From the beginning of 2002, when U.S. government debt was at its most recent minimum as a share of GDP, to the end of 2012, the dollar lost 25 percent of its value, in price-adjusted terms, against a basket of the currencies of major trading partners. This may have been because investors fear that the only way out of the current debt problems will be future inflation.
More troubling for the future is that private domestic investment—the fuel for future economic growth—shows a strong negative correlation with government debt levels over several business cycles dating back to the late 1950s. Continuing high debt does not bode well in this regard.
I can tell you that the minute all the econ and finance professors who blog get a hold of this, there will be laughter so loud that it will leave the blogosphere and escape to a permanent home in the universal annals of Pathos. Frankly, I can already see using this in a first level, midterm statistics class, corporate finance class or economics class. How many wrong things can you point to in this analysis in just 45 minutes? Go!
Joe probably eyeballed domestic investment numbers and debt levels then labelled it correlation so he can jump an infinite number of sharks to go AHA!!!! GOTCHA PROFESSOR MORIARTY errr Krugman!! He also appears to be blissfully unaware of Fed policy concerning the dollar which basically sets the supply of our currency and the fact that supply interacts with the demand for our currency to set exchange rates. Oh, and the dollar’s been up against the major currencies (especially the EURO) since Dubya left office, so one of his arguments is just factually wrong. The USD has been up against the Yen for well over a year and then up then flat against the Pound Sterling for years so I’m not sure which currency he’s worried about in that basket. It’s even been flat against the Cayman Islands Dollar which I’m sure is more of interest to him than anything else. It’s way down against the Chinese Yuan but then, I wouldn’t consider that a problem at all.
I’m tempted to go there and there and all the places I could go with this, but I won’t because most of you probably don’t want a stats lecture and I don’t have all day. Let me just say that there are a lot of factors that drive investment, which is the least logical component of the national income accounts; and to single out one possible factor without controlling for any of the other factors is a fool’s errand. It shows complete ignorance of investment, finance, and economics so we can add a few more things to the list called what Joe doesn’t know. Actually, worse than that is that he appears to have gotten this blather from an anonymous “senior economist” from the Rand Corporation. Is he misquoting another economist or did some one actually write this for him? Worrying either way!!
Joe, however, is more importantly a symptom of the much bigger problem identified by our former Madam Secretary. We have an entire political party that insists it’s right when clearly, the overwhelming amount of evidence says its wrong. For this analysis, I’m closing with something by Kevin Drum who occasionally can find the nut. We deserve a better press. We deserve better than Joe Scarborough littering up the air waves under the guise of “news” instead of misguided memes and propaganda.
It seems to me that something has happened over the past three months: the nonpartisan media has finally started to internalize the idea that the modern Republican Party has gone off the rails. Their leaders can’t control their backbenchers. They throw pointless temper tantrums about everything President Obama proposes. They have no serious ideas of their own aside from wanting to keep taxes low on the rich. They’re serially obsessed with a few hobby horses — Fast & Furious! Obamacare! Benghazi! — that no one else cares about. Their fundraising is controlled by scam artists. They’re rudderless and consumed with infighting. They’re demographically doomed.
Obviously these are all things that we partisan hacks in the blogosphere have been yapping about forever. But the mainstream press, despite endless conservative kvetching to the contrary, has mostly stuck with standard shape-of-the-world-differs reporting.
Recently, though, my sense is that this has shifted a bit. The framing of even straight new [sic] reports feels just a little bit jaded, as if veteran reporters just can’t bring themselves to pretend one more time that climate change is a hoax, Benghazi is a scandal, and federal spending is spiraling out of control. It’s getting harder and harder to pretend that the same old shrieking over the same old issues is really newsworthy.
This brings me back to Boston Boomer’s Valentine’s Day morning rant based on a phone discussion we had the night before. Why-oh-Why am I writing about this again? Why-oh-why can’t we put this kind of nonsense to bed like all sane people who know the earth is not flat, an apple will fall to the ground if dropped from a tree, and if you every one stops spending and only a few families have decent incomes, the economy will contract and say stay contracted? Don’t folks like Scarborough and the AEI know we buried Say’s
Law Failed Hypothesis a long time ago? (Kinda like we buried that zombie Laffer curve! But some folks just want to believe the universe revolves around the earth and the entire set up is only a few thousand years old. Hmmm, like Mark Rubio.)
I’m not sure that last question was rhetorical or not, but hey, it’s a thread and there’s a discussion, so discuss amongst yourselves …
Here’s the topic:
Joe Scarborough, pathetic or desperate? or Why oh Why can’t we Have a better press corps? Joe Scarborough edition
So, all you kind folks that get up way too early in the morning for my tastes and habits sent me to the Morning Joe website to watch Paul Krugman commit beltway heresy. I actually had to play it twice to believe my eyes.
I am reminded of the occasional student that would turn up in a freshmen class and proceed to school the professor on his subject. I saw this when I went to university and I experienced it when I taught freshmen classes. For some reason, all your education, experience, research, and accolades matter naught before people who are absolutely convinced they are right because they just are. I’ve been watching for the internet reactions and they’re wonderful. None is better than Krugman’s response who likens it to the drumbeat leading up to the invasion of Iraq. Even though the evidence was weak and called bogus by experts, we invaded a country with the incestuous amplification of the villagers who really wanted to be war correspondents.
No matter how much proof we have that austerity makes things worse and the current deficit is cyclical, there are a bunch of those in the press that insist they’re not, well … just because they really love the idea of Simpson-Bowles and the unnecessary suffering that would be induced by a study that their committee wouldn’t even approve. I don’t know why they want to induce unnecessary suffering but maybe it has something to do with not being impacted but being able to report from the middle of homeless and starving grannies.
Back during the early days of the Iraq debacle, I learned that the military has a term for how highly dubious ideas become not just accepted, but viewed as certainties. “Incestuous amplification” happen when a closed group of people repeat the same things to each other – and when accepting the group’s preconceptions itself becomes a necessary ticket to being in the in-group. A fundamentally flawed notion – say, that the Germans can’t possibly attack though the Ardennes – becomes part of what everyone knows, where “everyone” means by definition only people who accept the flawed notion.
We saw that in the run-up to Iraq, where perfectly obvious propositions – the case for invading is very weak, the occupation may well be a nightmare – weren’t so much rejected as ruled out of discussion altogether; if you even considered those possibilities, you weren’t a serious person, no matter what your credentials.
Which brings me to the fiscal debate, characterized by the particular form of incestuous amplification Greg Sargent calls the Beltway Deficit Feedback Loop. I’ve already blogged about my Morning Joe appearance and Scarborough’s reaction, which was to insist that almost no mainstream economists share my view that deficit fear is vastly overblown. As Joe Weisenthal points out, the reality is that among those who have expressed views very similar to mine are the chief economist of Goldman Sachs; the former Treasury secretary and head of the National Economic Council; the former deputy chairman of the Federal Reserve; and the economics editor of the Financial Times. The point isn’t that these people are necessarily right (although they are), it is that Scarborough’s attempt at argument through authority is easily refuted by even a casual stroll through recent economic punditry.
The Krugman view on the economy isn’t an outlier in the community of economists. That’s because we know theory and we know the empirical evidence that supports the theories. Here’s a list of 10 People that disagree with the narrative of the deficit scolds as compiled by Joe Wiesenthal at TBI.
But actually there are plenty of economists and economically-literate minds who think that, to varying degrees, the deficit is not what we should be worrying about.
For Joe Scarborough’s sake, here’s a list of people. With each we’ve linked to comments they’ve made about their (lack of) worry about the deficit.
- Goldman chief economist Jan Hatzius
- Nomura economist Richard Koo
- Brad Delong
- Alan Blinder
- Martin Wolf
- Larry Summers
- James Galbraith
- Robert Reich
- Bruce Bartlett
- John Makin (a conservative AEI scholar with a new paper out today on the danger of overhyping deficit fears!)
- Rep. Jerry Nadler (not an economist, but as knowledgeable on economics as anyone up on Scarborough’s list).
Anyway, that was just a partial list, but one that covers conservatives, liberals, Wall Street economists, and former government officials.
The funny thing is that polls show that the American public isn’t all that worried about the deficit either. The economy and jobs outpolls the deficit concerns by about 2 to 1 in polling from all kinds of pollsters. David Atkins–writing at Hullabaloo–calls it the problem of the Kool Kids Table.
Here at Hullabaloo we call it the Kool Kids Table, a pathway to power and social acceptance inaccessible to those who don’t hold the “right” views.
Do I believe that everyone in Joe Scarborough’s sphere of influence knows that Keynesianism is accurate and that Krugman is right, but chooses to say otherwise because it pads their bank account? Of course not. It takes a conspiracy theorist and an idiot to believe that. Washington is corrupt, but it’s not that corrupt.
No, most of these people believe what they say. I don’t doubt that Scarborough’s perplexed shock is genuine. Just like I believe that most of the conservative theologians who burned Giordano Bruno at the stake believed that our solar system was the only one of its kind. After all, anyone who believed otherwise wasn’t taken seriously and didn’t advance in the Church hierarchy. Everyone who was anyone knew better, and since Bruno refused to accept the conventional wisdom he had to be shunned and ultimately silenced. Bruno’s ideas were unserious and dangerous. The man had his head in the sand and couldn’t see what seemed obvious to everyone else.
Perhaps one day the Church of the Austerians will belatedly apologize to Keynes, Krugman, Stiglitz and all the other great economists whose names have been dragged through the mud. But not likely soon, and not during their lifetimes. In our own sordid lifetimes, Popes Simpson and Bowles will continue to bestow favors upon their cardinals, giving communion only to the Kool Kids who deserve it.
It is actually a freshman economics problem to argue that now is a very bad time to focus on the deficit. It’s very simple math. There are 4 actors in our economy. That would be businesses, the foreign sector, households and the government. During a bad economy, the first three actors generally pull back. Households tend to save and pay down debt, businesses don’t order as much inventory or expand because households are pulling back, and the foreign sector is generally impacted by the US economy and will slow down its buying too unless the dollar should become very weak and our prices fall dramatically. US policy normally doesn’t let that happen.
So, the idea is that the government–using its taxing and spending policy–can make up for the fall off in economic activity. It can buy things from the private sector or do things like public works and directly offer households jobs and income and businesses a reason to expand. It can also do this by handing money over to state governments to do the same. All the activity of the four actors contributes to our GDP so if all four of them are pulling back, we get a recession.
We know this not only by talking about it in conceptual terms but also by studying the great depression and the austerity policies of countries like the UK. The UK fixated on austerity and–as a result–has had miserable economy experience and is now fallen into another recession. As Krugman explains, we’ve done relatively better because we had some stimulus. Had it been politically feasible to make it stronger, we’d have had a much stronger recovery. It’s not just a matter of embracing a Keynesian mindset, it’s just a matter of knowing the math or what’s called the national accounting identity. Remember, it’s an identity which means it’s true by definition. You can’t have four negative numbers summed together on one side of an equation with out the other side being negative too.
We also know that we’ve been in worse situations with deficits. Notably, the post-World War 2 period saw huge government deficits. Our economy expanded, we had extremely progressive taxes, and we paid the deficit down. They sky did not fall down because we ran up huge deficits during the War. In fact, buying war bonds that financed the war was seen as patriotic. We personally supported government spending this way. We did not do the same thing in our following wars and skirmishes. Bush Two put two very expensive and long, drawn out wars on the deficit while lowering taxes and decreasing the progressiveness of the tax system. This policy behavior is a huge problem.
The truth is that Keynes himself never suggested an economy run a perpetual recession. The fiscal policy prescription is to run a deficit during recessions, run towards a balanced budget in a Goldilocks economy where everything is just right, and run a budget surplus in an overheated, inflationary economy. It seems we never hear any of this from the obnoxious freshman student that sits in the front row and insists his high school reading of Ayn Rand tells him something completely different. We also never hear this from ideologues who really have a completely different agenda in mind. Their agenda is basically just to drown government in the bathtub and they don’t want any thing to work.
The problem is the kids at the Koolaid Table never, ever learn and are more motivated by access to power than access to knowledge. It’s evident in that they keep playing the deficit hawks running around yelling the sky is falling and they’ve done so for about 5 years. Or, as Krugman puts it:
KRUGMAN: “People like me have been saying for five years don’t worry about these deficit things for the time being, they’re non-issues, other people have been saying imminent crisis, imminent crisis … how many times do they have to be wrong and people like me have to be right before people start to believe us?”
Krugman must have an endless amount of patience to continually sit down with a group of these obnoxious freshmen. I wonder at how he does it day-in-and-day-out.