Come Now, Mr. Krugman. Zombies?

William Anderson of the Mises Institute brought this to my attention via my RSS feed. Paul Krugman, the persistent pest that he is, writes in his column today of the failure of free-market economics to accurately predict the future. I can find no real event that gives cause to this little rant of Krugman’s, but really, when isn’t a good time to compose a half-cocked column for publication in a nationally-read newspaper to confuse the masses?

Of course, when one ignores pertinent information and incorrectly defines the problem, it seems as if Austrians (and quasi-Austrians in the Reagan tradition of thought) were just plain stupid. Let’s start at the beginning.

How, after runaway banks brought the economy to its knees, did we end up with Ron Paul, who says “I don’t think we need regulators,” about to take over a key House panel overseeing the Fed?

Well, let’s first take this in context. Rep. Paul, who currently finds himself at the forefront of the popular libertarian movement, is in favor of abolishing the Fed. As the newly appointed Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Domestic Monetary Policy, he’s going to try to shed some light on what exactly is happening in that veritable lockbox of secrets commonly known as “the Fed.” Now, some of my other younger libertarian friends are Ron Paul enthusiasts; I find and acknowledge many points of his philosophy that seem to contradict other parts, and as such, I cannot fully defend him. But I do think that an increase in the flow of information is a good thing, and would support Rep. Paul in his quest to bring a change about in this vein at the Fed. But this quote from Paul is taken out of context; at the very least, he wants more regulation of the Fed. He wants to restrict the ability of the Fed to act. And then there’s the debate about whether a decrease in regulation is a bad thing, but that’s just an idealogical point that will not be resolved.

For the fact is that the Obama stimulus — which itself was almost 40 percent tax cuts — was far too cautious to turn the economy around. And that’s not 20-20 hindsight: many economists, myself included, warned from the beginning that the plan was grossly inadequate. Put it this way: A policy under which government employment actually fell, under which government spending on goods and services grew more slowly than during the Bush years, hardly constitutes a test of Keynesian economics.

You know, I have to give Krugman something. He did say that the plan was grossly inadequate. I wouldn’t bandy it about that I was calling for more of a plan that wasn’t going to work, but Krugman seems to like to do things like that, and to each his own. However, he’s wrong about government employment falling; you can see here that he’s wrong. It’s grown since 2008, and that’s not even counting the temporary census workers. Krugman contends that “government spending on goods and services” has grown “more slowly than during the Bush years.” That is one of the vaguest contentions I have ever heard. Of course, there are no facts, no data by which I might look deeper into this claim. I’m not even sure exactly what he means by this, actually. Government spending on goods and services? Does this mean subsidization of the private sector? Bailouts? Overall spending? I don’t know, but this is a poorly-written, vaguely-phrased sentence of which I think no one can really make a definitive heads or tails.

For two years we’ve been warned that inflation, even hyperinflation, was just around the corner; instead, disinflation has continued, with core inflation — which excludes volatile food and energy prices — now at a half-century low.

As I stated earlier this year, the banks aren’t lending. All of the money they were given by the Fed is sitting in the Fed’s vaults as excess reserves, accruing interest, not being lent. There are a few reason for this, namely that interest paid by the Fed on excess reserves is effectively greater than the overnight rate, or the Fed Funds Rate. Ben Bernanke (who looks like my dog) has acknowledged this. If the banks had been lending, however, there would be a inestimably high rate of inflation. This is simple economics; when there is an excess supply of funds, the value of said funds is diminished, and when there is a huge excess supply of funds, the value of said funds are hugely diminished. Which leads to inflation. It’s only by the simple fact that the banks are reluctant to lend that we aren’t suffering from crippling inflation.

The free-market fundamentalists have been as wrong about events abroad as they have about events in America — and suffered equally few consequences. “Ireland,” declaredGeorge Osborne in 2006, “stands as a shining example of the art of the possible in long-term economic policymaking.” Whoops. But Mr. Osborne is now Britain’s top economic official.

Well now. This seems to make “free-market fundamentalists” seem rather silly, doesn’t it. However, the Irish made the same mistake our American banks did. They lent money to those who shouldn’t have been lent to. The banks took actions inconsistent with the principle of self-interest and therefore with Austrian economics, or “free market fundamentalism,” as Mr. Krugman stated it. But other things about Irish policy, like their low tax rates, are good and in keeping with Austrian principles. The actions of the banks in lending to those to whom money should not have been lent could actually be construed as Keynesian; any spending is good spending, neh?

And then there’s the grand finale: zombies.

But such failures don’t seem to matter. To borrow the title of a recent book by the Australian economist John Quiggin on doctrines that the crisis should have killed but didn’t, we’re still — perhaps more than ever — ruled by “zombie economics.” Why?

Zombie economics are so called because they keep rising from the dead. Presumably, Krugman means free-market/Austrian policies as zombie-like. I must warn you, at this time, all pretense of being an economic column is dropped and Krugman begins the outright fawning over President Obama.

People tend to forget that Ronald Reagan often gave ground on policy substance — most notably, he ended up enacting multiple tax increases. But he never wavered on ideas, never backed down from the position that his ideology was right and his opponents were wrong.

President Obama, by contrast, has consistently tried to reach across the aisle by lending cover to right-wing myths. He has praised Reagan for restoring American dynamism (when was the last time you heard a Republican praising F.D.R.?), adopted G.O.P. rhetoric about the need for the government to tighten its belt even in the face of recession, offered symbolic freezes on spending and federal wages.

None of this stopped the right from denouncing him as a socialist. But it helped empower bad ideas, in ways that can do quite immediate harm. Right now Mr. Obama is hailing the tax-cut deal as a boost to the economy — but Republicans are already talking about spending cuts that would offset any positive effects from the deal. And how effectively can he oppose these demands, when he himself has embraced the rhetoric of belt-tightening?

Translation: Obama’s a great guy who’s trying to work with these terrible Republicans who adhere to these stupid zombified economic policies, except that they don’t because they support things that aren’t justifiable with a free market outlook. And Obama, this great man, really isn’t all that great because he’s acting more like a free marketeer than the damnable Republicans, but he’s still our great Keynesian savior except that he needs to do more.

Now, I know that Krugman being wrong about things isn’t really groundbreaking, but this was one of his more obscenely wrong posts in a while.


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