Krugman on the deficit

Must-read Krugman on the deficit and economic policy:

Back in 2010, self-styled deficit hawks — better described as deficit scolds — took over much of our political discourse. 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. And now that the election is over, they’re trying to pick up where they left off.

They should be told to go away.

It’s not just the fact that the deficit scolds have been wrong about everything so far. Recent events have also demonstrated clearly what was already apparent to careful observers: the deficit-scold movement was never really about the deficit. Instead, it was about using deficit fears to shred the social safety net…

And then there’s the matter of the “fiscal cliff.”

Contrary to the way it’s often portrayed, the looming prospect of spending cuts and tax increases isn’t a fiscal crisis. It is, instead, a political crisis brought on by the G.O.P.’s attempt to take the economy hostage. 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.

Deficit scolds are having a hard time with this issue. How can they warn us not to go over the fiscal cliff without seeming to contradict their own rhetoric about the evils of deficits?

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.” But since the deficit scolds have in fact been demanding that we make deficits the priority even when the economy is depressed, they can’t go there.

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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