Liveblogging World War II: May 16, 1943
Noted for May 17, 2013

Seven Howlers from Michael Kinsley's Very Misguided War Against Paul Krugman

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Why oh why can't we have a better press corps?

Michael Kinsley is really confused:

People who favor austerity are “austerians,” a clever Krugman coinage that makes adherents sound like aliens from another planet…

Ummm… If you Google "first use of austerian" Google tells you about first uses of "Australian". If you Google "first use of austerian -Australian" Google tries to send you to first uses of "Austrian" that do not contain "Australian". If you tell Google you are serious, it sends you to WordSpy, which says:

"Remember, the political idea being expressed a year ago was that because the GOP interpreted its 1994 mandate as a call to budget-balancing austerity, the electorate would never give the White House to the GOP if its nominee was also a root-canal austerian." —Jude Wanniski, "Reminder from Forbes… Crossroads for Dole," The Washington Times, March 20, 1996.

So not Paul Krugman. Jude Wanninski. Howler #1.

Kinsley goes on:

It’s easier to describe what the anti-austerians believe than the austerians themselves. Anti-austerians believe that governments around the world need to stop worrying about their debts for a while and continue pouring money into the economy until the threat of recession or worse is well and truly over. Austerians want the opposite. But what is the opposite? Is President Barack Obama, for example, an austerian? To Republicans and conservatives, yes…

These two howlers--ascription of "austerian" to Krugman instead of Wanninski, and "yes" where he means "no", indicate that this is a first draft: neither checking-of-facts nor reading the ms. aloud to be sure that there are no "yeses" where there should be "noes".Which raises the question of what value is being added by the New Republic's editorial staff here, but I digress…

On to substance, rather than fact-checking and proofreading:

"Austerians" have been those advocating "Austerian" policies: that even the most credit-worthy sovereigns need to shift policy, starting right now, to:

  • cut their spending,
  • raise their tax rates
  • even though economies are depressed
  • even though interest rates--and thus the costs of carrying debt--are extraordinarily low as far into the future as the eye can see.

Supporters of these "Austerian" policies believe that such policies are:

  • the best road to boosting employment and production now (Alesina-Ardagna);
  • the best road to avoiding a very large drag on growth even with very low interest rates should debt-to-annual-GDP exceed the magic 90% threshold (Reinhart-Rogoff); and
  • necessary lest the United States, Britain, Germany, and Japan "turn into Greece" (Ryan).

There is no puzzle here: these are the policies that have been labeled "Austerian". "Austerians" support these policies. They are the opposite of what people like Paul Krugman, Larry Summers, Ben Bernanke, Olivier Blanchard, me, and many others believe: that as long as interest rates stay low and economies stay depressed, more government spending now will produce a healthier economy in the short run and is highly likely to produce a lower long-term debt burden in the long run, for the debt-to-annual-GDP ratio has a denominator as well as a numerator.

Kinsley professes to be one of the few remaining people who is puzzled about what "Austerian" policies are. That is howler #3: if you have done your homework, no puzzlement can arise.

And howler #4 comes later on when Kinsley turns around and says that he knows what "Austerian" policies are, and : "You know what they say: Disputes in academia are especially vicious because the stakes are so small. The stakes in the austerity debate—the actual differences of opinion—get smaller and smaller even while the argument itself gets larger and louder." That is simply, completely, and totally false. The stakes are not small. They are no smaller now than they were three years ago.

Howler #5 comes when Kinsley claims that: "the lessons of Paul Volcker" are that "the Great Stagflation of the late 1970s" was caused by fiscal "Stimulus" which "is strong medicine--an addictive drug--and you don’t give the patient more than you absolutely have to." Was he not alive in the late 1970s and early 1980s? Does he not remember that the large fiscal deficits of the 1970s and 1980s came not during the Great Stagflation of the 1970s, but in the 1980s after the Volcker Disinflation? The historical confusion, the lack of memory of his own lived career, and the lack of fact-checking…

And when I read things like: "I'm not sure how relevant the experiences of Greece and Iceland, as described in this paper, are to the United States", my immediate reaction is: Howler #6. If that is the case, then shouldn't you raise both hands, step away slowly from your keyboard, and wait until you arrive at a view before you write? But once again, I digress…

Let me close with the biggest howler: howler #7. Krugman's principal criticism of Austerians is that they are suffering from a bug in their wetware:

Everyone loves a morality play. “For the wages of sin is death” is a much more satisfying message than “Shit happens.” We all want events to have meaning. When applied to macroeconomics, this urge to find moral meaning creates in all of us a predisposition toward believing stories that attribute the pain of a slump to the excesses of the boom that precedes it—and, perhaps, also makes it natural to see the pain as necessary, part of an inevitable cleansing process…

Austerians are thus, Krugman thinks, adopting a moral stance, because it makes them feel good, rather than doing their proper job and conducting a technocratic analysis. Sometimes the wages of sin is death--sometimes pain is necessary to repair past mistakes--and sometimes it isn't, and technocratic analyses like DeLong and Summers (2012) make what I, at least, believe is an overwhelming case that right now it is not: past sins of the bankers do not require a "lost decade" of elevated unemployment for the population at large.

Kinsley says that Krugman is wrong: he says that Austerians are conducting their own technocratic analyses--that:

Austerians don’t get off on other people’s suffering. They, for the most part, honestly believe that theirs is the quickest way through the suffering. They may be right or they may be wrong…

But he doesn't quote or link to any of them.

Funny that.

But most fascinating thing, for me, is that Kinsley's claim that "Austerians don’t get off on other people’s suffering" comes in the middle of a passage in which… well, Michael Kinsley gets off on other people's suffering:

Krugman also is on to something when he talks about paying a price for past sins. I don’t think suffering is good, but I do believe that we have to pay a price for past sins, and the longer we put it off, the higher the price will be…. The problem is the great, deluded middle class--subsidized by government and coddled by politicians. In other words, they are you and me. If you make less than $250,000 a year, Obama has assured us, you are officially entitled to feel put-upon and resentful. And to be immune from further imposition…. Austerians deserve credit: They at least are talking about the spinach, while the Krugmanites are only talking about dessert.

If writing that the "great, deluded middle class--subsidized by the government and coddled by politicians" needs to experience a decade-long siege of high unemployment isn't "get[ting] off on other people's suffering", I don't know what "getting off on other people's suffering" could possibly mean.

Paul Krugman: 6-0, 6-0, 6-0.