This just shows that having a Nobel Prize is no substitute for intelligence. While Krugman is correct in that the current crisis is shaping up to be more like a depression–at least as serious as the years after the panic of 1873–he is totally out of his mind when he says that the problem is inadequate spending.
In the face of this grim picture, you might have expected policy makers to realize that they haven’t yet done enough to promote recovery. But no: over the last few months there has been a stunning resurgence of hard-money and balanced-budget orthodoxy.
As far as rhetoric is concerned, the revival of the old-time religion is most evident in Europe, where officials seem to be getting their talking points from the collected speeches of Herbert Hoover, up to and including the claim that raising taxes and cutting spending will actually expand the economy, by improving business confidence. As a practical matter, however, America isn’t doing much better. The Fed seems aware of the deflationary risks — but what it proposes to do about these risks is, well, nothing. The Obama administration understands the dangers of premature fiscal austerity — but because Republicans and conservative Democrats in Congress won’t authorize additional aid to state governments, that austerity is coming anyway, in the form of budget cuts at the state and local levels.
Why the wrong turn in policy? The hard-liners often invoke the troubles facing Greece and other nations around the edges of Europe to justify their actions. And it’s true that bond investors have turned on governments with intractable deficits. But there is no evidence that short-run fiscal austerity in the face of a depressed economy reassures investors. On the contrary: Greece has agreed to harsh austerity, only to find its risk spreads growing ever wider; Ireland has imposed savage cuts in public spending, only to be treated by the markets as a worse risk than Spain, which has been far more reluctant to take the hard-liners’ medicine.
Paul, where have you been for the past 6 months? The European Zone is on the verge of default. They aren’t spending more, because they can’t! If you have credit cards with balances totaling $20,000 (with a balance of $5,000), then that means you can hypothetically spend $15,000. Right?
Well, not really.
What happens if the credit card company decides that your credit line is too high and, say, cuts it down to $10,000? What happens if the credit card company starts hiking your interest rate because they have figured that–due to your balance-to-credit ratio, you are now at a higher default risk? What happens when Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax see your change in credit situation, and knock your score down below 700?
Answer: Your power to spend has been crimped badly.
Oh, and your ability to recover will depend on your securing a job that will cover your living expenses AND provide a reasonable chance for you to pay off the debts that you ran up.
Well, that is what is happening in Europe. Greek bonds are now junk. Their interest rates are high as a result. Spanish bonds aren’t a whole lot better, so they have to pay a higher rate for their borrowing.
Over here, we’ve spent an insane amount of money to prop up our GDP. What happens when that money runs out?
For economic recovery to be durable, the economy would need to be able to produce above and beyond the debt incurred during the recession. Evidence in the housing market suggests that this is NOT the case: the first-time homebuyer credit has expired, and housing purchases have plummeted. This in spite of interest rates at all-time lows!
Because our monetary creation depends on credit creation, we cannot create money unless we have investors who will lend it (buy bonds) to us.
China–one of our major creditors–is already getting antsy about our spending. And as we keep incurring the debt, we put ourselves in the position of being dependent on MAINTAINING that level of spending.
Government cannot spend that way ad infinitum, so when the government eventually pulls back we will need GDP growth exceeding 10% per year just to cover the debt obligations and infrastructure that government has artificially created.
When Keynes was faced with the issue of “what happens in the long run”, his answer was “in the long run we are all dead.”
Trouble is, what happens when the long run arrives and we are not dead?
The long run has arrived.