Monday, January 14, 2013

Does anyone else notice how Krugman equates one-trick-ponyness w.r.t. the debt with centrism?

I get what he's frustrated with. Hell, I live in the Washington area. I am surrounded by what he's frustrated with. And I'm frustrated too, not the least because there is cause for concern about public debt and public spending that is in my mind most responsibly communicated by relatively centrist people like Bob Reischauer, Christina Romer, Gene Steuerle, and the whole crew at CBPP that get drowned out by the sorts of people that Krugman is frustrated with.

Krugman is mad at the pundit types and the politician types that like to appear reasonable. That's why he calls them "centrist".

But they're not.

Across the ideological spectrum journalists and politicians love to moralize about debt. Krugman just complained about Jon Stewart doing this in the discussion of the platinum coin (which I oppose for political economy reasons - not for the first approximation macroeconomics of it). Is Jon Stewart a centrist? Of course not - he's a liberal. I'm sure Rachel Maddow has a ton of screeds about how bad the debt is, citing the wars and the tax cuts too.

It has nothing to do with centrism and everything to do with the fact that these people (journalists and politicians) don't take a scienitific approach to the economy the way analysts do.

Among analysts the only real problem is the conservatives (and even some of them - I'm thinking of conservative New Keynesian types - aren't all that bad). Centrists and liberals in the analyst community understand what Krugman is frustrated about here and they even understand how to have responsible concerns about the debt without flipping out over the sticker shock right now.

I think Krugman is targeting the wrong people and painting himself as being more far left than he actually is when he complains about centrism. The distinguishing identity of these people is that they are politicians (Simpson, Bowles, the entire Congress), policy entrepreneur types (David Walker, Pete Peterson) or they are journalists. It's not their ideology - it's their method. And their method is not scientific, it's moralistic.


  1. So, in other words, Krugman isn't targeting the people/things that you want him to target? And I would be willing to guess that this represents a substantial criticism in your mind. No doubt, you'll cite it when somebody challenges you on your Krugman fancy.

    1. No he isn't targeting the people/things he SHOULD target. Which is just coincidentally what I want him to target in this case :)

    2. More seriously, though - I think this really is a substantive difference. When you hear politicians or journalists or even just average citizens talking about this - right, left, and center - they express the sort of debt paranoia that is at the heart of what Krugman is worried about. Krugman is of the opinion that this has something to do with where you fall on the ideological spectrum and I think that's an actual misdiagnosis of the real problem.

    3. But ... What about Bob?

    4. More seriously, I do understand what you mean. People get lost in the rhetoric, media, and their ideologies. I totally understand that. However, this current problem is really only a single step toward the greater pyramid of problems ahead. Ideology and whatnot really doesn't hold much of a difference once the bell finally rings.

  2. Mere economic prudence calls for trimming our sails re: debt. That is the argument I would make but economic prudence is in rather short supply in D.C.

    As for the whole science angle I am let us say skeptical.

    1. This is just nonsense, nothing but fear. No one knows the future.

      Had you been alive in 1932 and been told that in 15 years federal debt would have reached 150% of GDP you would have looked for a bridge or a tall building and a window.

      Face facts. We had major financial destruction of two banking systems, regular and shadow. Repairing that damage will cost trillions. Our response has been wholly inadequate because the shadow system was so hidden from view that we have no accurate measurements of the damage. All this has taken place against a back drop of extraordinary technological change which is destroying jobs faster than we can create new ones.

      The way forward is pretty simple. You keep pouring water on a fire until it is out.

    2. Alexander Hamilton,

      Compare ...

      "This is just nonsense, nothing but fear. No one knows the future."

      "The way forward is pretty simple. You keep pouring water on a fire until it is out."

      Now tell me why I should pay attention to anything that you write?


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