There is much solid economic history, taking about the arguments of those who still advocate for the now thoroughly discredit approach of austerity. Krugman takes their claims and presents the history that proves them wrong. I will present the arguments in Italics and follow with summaries of Krugman's rebuttals. For example.
Stimulus programs never go away - in fact, they are rare and short-lived. FDR cut back on his in 1937, plunging the country back into recession, Obama's peaked in 2010 and has faded, which is a major reason the recovery is struggling.
programs to help those hurt go on forever - not really. When employment recovers unemployment goes down, and are now down to half of their recent peak. Food support also fluctuates.
The Keynesian idea to run deficits in bad times is supposed to be accompanied by paying down debt in good times, and that won't happen - well, Krugman says what you need to look at is the ratio of debt to GDP, not just raw numbers. And now he gets blunt:
And if you look at United States history since World War II, you find that of the 10 presidents who preceded Barack Obama, seven left office with a debt ratio lower than when they came in. Who were the three exceptions? Ronald Reagan and the two George Bushes. So debt increases that didn’t arise either from war or from extraordinary financial crisis are entirely associated with hard-line conservative governments.It gets even better.
Krugman takes apart the ideology of conservatives who want to "starve the beast" (or if you prefer Grover Norquist's version, shrink the government to the size you could drown it in a bathtub). The chosen method of course, the answer to any question, is to slash taxes.
The funny thing is that right now these same hard-line conservatives declare that we must not run deficits in times of economic crisis. Why? Because, they say, politicians won’t do the right thing and pay down the debt in good times. And who are these irresponsible politicians they’re talking about? Why, themselves.Remember, the only three Presidents not to leave office with a lower ratio of debt to GDP were Reagan and the two Bushes. The younger Bush is of course worst of all -
- fighting two wars off budget
- cutting taxes while fighting a war
- imposing an unfunded prescription drug program designed to blow up Medicare
to cite just a few examples.
Krugman cites the classic Yiddish tale to define chutzpah. Let me tell it the way I learned it. Imagine if you will the Yiddish accent:
You wanna know what chutzpah is? I'll tell you.So Krugman translates that tale into the truth about the conservative austerians:
A man, he kills his father, then he kills his mother.
He gets arrested, taken to court, and then he says
"Judge, I throw myself on the mercy of the court on account of I'm an orphan.
Here we have conservatives telling us that we must tighten our belts despite mass unemployment, because otherwise future conservatives will keep running deficits once times improve.Except that it's not as funny as Mel Brooks, somehow that reminds me of this:
Krugman also does not think it is funny:
Put this way, of course, it sounds silly. But it isn’t; it’s tragic. The disastrous turn toward austerity has destroyed millions of jobs and ruined many lives. And it’s time for a U-turn.
It is a terrific column. The chutzpah caucus is a marvelous formulation.
There is one weakness to the column and I feel I must mention it.
It is not just the conservatives.
It is far too many in the Village of conventional wisdom in DC. That includes the pundit class, it includes some establishment Democrats, and it unfortunately seems to partially include key players of the current administration.
It would be a lot easier to pin the tail of conservative caucus on the elephant of Republican Conservatives were they not so able to hide amongst those Democratic asses who enable them.
Still, I will take the formulation.
Perhaps we should start a twitter fest, using Krugman's formulation
every time we can tie it to Republican austerians.
And perhaps to some of their enablers as well?