Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Krugman Does It Again

You will recall that, according to Paul Krugman, FDR’s spending which ended in 1937 causing a recession, nonetheless somehow managed also to trigger the postwar economic boom in the 1950’s, fifteen years or so after it ended. Well he has come up with another in his “magical economics” series, one in which that massive spending also did not cause any debt, blaming the debt that was left at the end of that spending on FDR’s predecessor, Herbert Hoover.

You can read the whole thing, complete with graphs and discussions of numerators and denominators and statements that, in effect, call everyone other than himself an idiot.

First is a chart showing debt as a percent of GDP, which people with Nobel Prizes know is a very important number, one that matters a lot more than actual debt because it can be made to magically vanish a lot more easily than actual debt can. The bars for Herbert Hoover years are very short and the ones for FDR years are very tall, which would seem to create a problem for Krugman’s theory. But don’t worry, he has another chart.

This chart is the “numerator chart” or, to those of us without Nobel Prizes, the debt in actual dollars. Those are harder to make disappear, but Nobel winners will use them at times of need, and apparently this of one of those times. But there’s a problem with this chart too. The Hoover bars are very short and, omigod, look at those FDR bars!

Krugman is undaunted by any of this. Numbers are nothing to a man with
a brain like his; mere toys to be played with and maneuvered like lead soldiers on a papier mache battlefield.

Nonetheless, the fact that virtually all the deterioration in the US debt position from 1929 to 1939 took place under the tight-fisted Hoover rather than under FDR is an object lesson in the crucial importance of growth in dealing with debt. And the Hoover experience also provides a nice illustration of self-defeating austerity — not only didn’t austerity produce economic recovery, it didn’t even improve the fiscal position.

FDR spent way more money both in actual dollars and as a percent of GDP, and left the nation with a higher debt at the end of the period, both actual debt and as a percent of GDP, and yet, “virtually all the deterioration in the US debt position...”, etc. That’s how you deal with numbers that don’t suit you; you merely state your theory in the form of a conclusion, as if it had been proven by the charts that, at best, have nothing whatever to do with that statement and at worst totally disproves it.

This is “Voodoo Economics” writ large. You give credit to your hero for success, regardless of when that success occurred or where he stood with respect to it, and you blame his predecessor for any problems, no matter how the problem arose and what office the predecessor held at the time.

Krugman, just today in another article, says he might try standup comedy.

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