In multiple posts Paul Krugman is saying “I told you so”. For example, please consider Nobody Could Have Predicted
Pictures support the view that stimulus worked as long as it lasted, boosting the economy — which is the same conclusion Adam Posen drew from Japan’s experience in the 1990s: Fiscal policy works when it is tried.
But the stimulus wasn’t nearly big enough to restore full employment — as I warned from the beginning. And it was set up to fade out in the second half of 2010.
So what was supposed to happen? The invisible cavalry were supposed to ride to the rescue.
I never understood why the Obama administration thought this would happen so soon; history tells us that the effects of a financial crisis on private spending are normally protracted. And sure enough, the cavalry has not arrived.
Stimulus and Full Employment
The idea we can stimulate the economy to full employment is about as silly as silly gets. Krugman wanted double the stimulus we got. Well, we got zero benefit unemployment-wise from the stimulus and in my book infinity times zero is still zero.
Yes, unemployment fell from 10.1% to 9.5% but all of that decrease, if not more than all of that decrease, was a result of a falling participation rate. The bottom line is neither the Fed increasing its balance sheet by $trillions nor a $1.4 trillion deficit did a thing to lower unemployment.
Of course the Keynesian clowns will holler things would have been worse in the absence of stimulus. Really?! Would banks be lending more? Would small businesses be hiring?
Full Employment Made Easy
Krugman wants full employment. I suppose the government could easily employ everyone who does not have a job. Then again, didn’t we effectively do just that?
Here is a snip from “Contained Depression” that suggests we did.
We are certainly in a depression. However, 40 million people on food stamps as of August 2010, masks that depression. The cost of the food stamp program is on schedule to exceed $60 billion in fiscal 2010. For comparison purposes, there was just over 11 million on food stamps in 2005.
Please note there are 14.6 million unemployed, but of them 4.5 million of them are receiving regular unemployment benefits and another 4.7 million are receiving extended benefits. Thus 63% of those unemployed are receiving benefits. Being paid while not working also masks the depression.
Spitting at the Moon
Suppose that instead of handing out free money to 9.2 million unemployed, we hire them at minimum wage to spit at the moon. GDP would rise because all government spending by definition adds to GDP, regardless of how unproductive the activity really is.
Such a move would allow Krugman the wonderful opportunity to crow about rising GDP.
Moreover, unemployment would crash to seven percent or so. That would really get Krugman crowing. Yet, would anything have changed about the true state of the economy? Clearly the answer is no.
Suppose government hired all 14.6 million unemployed to spit at the moon. Would that get the economy humming? For any longer than the jobs to spit at the moon lasted?
The above examples may sound absurd, but the the result is much the same whether we hire people to spit at the moon vs. paving roads that don’t need to be paved. The main difference is money will run out faster hiring road workers because of the wasted material and equipment costs.
In actual practice, tax credits for housing was an abysmal failure. Would doubling that program have achieved different results? Would wasting the same out of money to repair schools or build new schools have done any better? Once again the answer is no. The only difference in any of these examples is the burn rate at which stimulus money is wasted.
Only Genuine Demand Will Fix Economy
What will get the economy humming is better tax policy, scrapping Davis-Bacon, dumping public union workers wherever possible, slashing defense spending, and letting home prices bottom.
Real demand for housing will step up as soon as there are bargains. Instead we have policies to prop up home prices.
Lesson of Japan
The lesson of Japan is the same as the lesson of home tax credits in the US – Stimulus programs do not work period, regardless of size. In Japan, every program failed. Japan is now in debt to the tune of 200% of GDP.
Some suggest Japan is no worse off for it. Nothing could be further from the truth. Japan squandered massive savings in the stupidest manner possible, building bridges to nowhere, and now its citizens are aging, in need of drawing down their savings.
Unfortunately those savings were squandered.
Japan is poised to blow up, however, the timing is uncertain. Sadly, the US is on the same path and Krugman is hellbent to get us there faster.
Consumer Credit Inflection Point
Let’s review Are we “Trending Towards Deflation” or in It?
The key problem for Bernanke is we have reached the Consumption Inflection Point – No One Wants Credit; Consumer Spending Plans Plunge
Keynesian Policies Fail
Keynesian stimulus measures have failed and will continue to fail. Please see Three Mish Segments on Tech Ticker, on Stimulus, Retail Sales, the Markets, Alternatives for details and an online interview.
We have wasted $2 trillion fighting deflation. It has not produced any jobs.
The correct way to spur growth is by fostering an economy that supports economic growth. For details, please see Bleak Outlook for Small Businesses and Job Creation; Where Obama Went Wrong, and What to do About It.
Keynesian Cures Worse than the Disease
Krugman has the wrong definition and the wrong worry. However, he is correct in his call for deflation. Unfortunately, this will lead to a bunch of “I told you so” kinds of posts from Krugman, in spite of the fact his cures are worse than the disease.
Indeed, Keynesian “cures” are one of the reasons this economy is in the mess it is in.
The final analysis shows that the real threat is not of deflation, but of absurd Keynesian and Monetarist attempts to prevent it. The Greenspan-Bernanke housing bubble (and subsequent crash), and decades of futility in Japan should be proof enough.
For another “I Told You So” Krugman post, please consider Nobody
The truth is that some of us were practically screaming back in January 2009 that the administration was proposing too small a program. Start with Stimulus arithmetic (wonkish but important) and work forward. And no, the point isn’t that I’m so smart — it is that given the forecasts we had at the time, and given historical experience of recessions after financial crises, it wasn’t at all hard to see that the plan was too small. Things have been worse than expected — but not that much worse.
And why does this matter? Because the best chance Obama et al have to change things now is to make the case that we need to do more, and that Republicans stand in the way. Yet here they are, apparently trying to run on the claim that they had it right all along, or something. Is this just boneheaded political strategy? Is it about the egos of the advisers who called it wrong?
I Told You So
The easiest predictions in the whole world were ….
1. Stimulus would fail no matter how big.
2. Krugman would brag “I Told You So”.
Three things about Krugman that irk me to no end are …
- His failure to look at the seen and unseen consequences of his proposals
- His failure to address the question as to what happens when stimulus ends
- His failure to look at structural problems
Ability for government borrowing is not infinite (at least without major economic repercussions). One easy to see problem is interest on the national debt will consume all tax collections if we stay on this path. Moreover, expiration of housing tax credits provides a clear example as to what happens when stimulus ends.
The Invisible Cavlalry
My friend HB has written an excellent article on similar lines. It turns out prosperity is not around the corner after all. Please consider Paul Krugman and the Invisible Cavalry
Averting the Great Depression Again
Throwing money at problems cannot ever work, but that especially holds true when structural problems like union salaries and public pension promises are left intact.
Just because Krugman was correct that stimulus would fail does not make him correct about the reasons why, or what the correct policy actions should have been. The irony as my friend points out, is Krugman’s 2009 proclamation “So it seems that we aren’t going to have a second Great Depression after all. What saved us? The answer, basically, is Big Government”.
Now we need big government to save us again. Spare me the sap. Big government is clearly the problem, not the solution.
Mike “Mish” Shedlock
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