Monday, May 13, 2013

Blog on Hiatus

[Update]: Things are much better and there is some real healing going on in this family, and for that I can be grateful to God. It still will be a while before I can resume the blog, as there is much repair work to be done and my family needs my complete attention.

Due to a serious family situation, I have decided to put this blog on hiatus for the time being. That is all I can say at the present time, but we do need your prayers.

Bob Murphy has been doing battle with Krugmanism for a while, so make sure you visit his blog.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Chutzpah Economics

It is nice to see that Paul Krugman learned his Yiddish as a young man, although I'm afraid that he is accusing the wrong people of having chutzpah. You see, when an economist claims that the cause of economic malaise is the lack of "enough" inflation, it seems to me that we are seeing chutzpah on steroids.

His latest column declares:
At this point the economic case for austerity — for slashing government spending even in the face of a weak economy — has collapsed. Claims that spending cuts would actually boost employment by promoting confidence have fallen apart. Claims that there is some kind of red line of debt that countries dare not cross have turned out to rest on fuzzy and to some extent just plain erroneous math. Predictions of fiscal crisis keep not coming true; predictions of disaster from harsh austerity policies have proved all too accurate.
I'm not sure what Krugman means by claiming that the world is in "austerity" when national governments across the globe have accelerated spending and especially borrowing. But then, I have to remember that according to Krugman, the difference between this recovery and other recoveries that actually were "recoveries," is the lack of spending by state governments. State governments cannot print money, and there are borrowing restrictions (state and municipal governments cannot pay back bonds by issuing other bonds -- it's called fraud). Thus, when the economy is weak, state revenues are relatively lower than they are in good times.

As anyone can see, such a situation is the result of an economic downturn, not its cause, yet Krugman insists on turning cause-and-effect upon its head, at least when it suits his point of view. Governments as a whole create little economic wealth, and instead are huge consumers of wealth. Yet, as I read Krugman, he seems to believe that the very act of spending is, in fact, a form of production. In his view, when governments borrow huge amounts of money for consumption purposes, and when governments impose taxes upon private economic production, such things are the epitome of government responsibility.

True, Krugman writes that during "good" times, governments should pay down debt, but he never explains how it is that we will sustain such "good" times for any length of time. Krugman's hostility toward private enterprise is evident (unless the private firm is being subsidized by the government and engaged in outright crony capitalism). I cannot understand how he believes that private enterprise activity could keep an economy going for more than five minutes, given the Keynesian viewpoint that private enterprise creates underconsumption.

I do need to add the following point: Krugman is right in saying that the Republican conservatives are hypocrites in the worst kind of way. The Reagan and Bush (both) administrations were profligate, and none of them were "austerians" in any meaningful way. This did not keep Progressives from claiming that they were running "austere" governments. I remember the howling from the New York Times and CBS News (especially Bill Moyers and Dan Rather) about Ronald Reagan's supposedly austere budgets, even though welfare spending grew in real terms while Reagan was president.

And who can forget the "three million homeless" hoax during the Reagan years. We were told that the spending cuts were so severe that millions of people were on the streets, out of work and living in shelters or worse. My favorite line on this came during one of the Dukakis-Bush debates when Dukakis declared, "There are three million homeless people in America, and a third of them are Vietnam veterans."

I quickly checked some sources and found that about 4.25 million people served in that war, so Dukakis wanted us to believe that nearly a quarter of Vietnam vets were on the streets. And the reason given was that the Reagan administration allegedly was spending less on public housing, as though there suddenly were three million fewer public housing units in the country.

No one is making those claims today, but the idea that the Obama administration is an "austerity" government is a howler. Furthermore, the proclivity of politicians is to spend, and Krugman wants us to believe that politicians all over the world are closely watching the "90-percent threshold" set by that space alien himself, Ken Rogoff, and then spending less.

Although Krugman's words may seem to be hyperbole, there is true method in what he is saying. No matter how much money the government borrows, prints, and spends in search of a fiscal policy that Krugman will accept, it never will be enough spending. Why? Because this spending is not going to bring about a real economic recovery, and according to Krugman's logic, the economy in a "liquidity trap" will recover only if government spends enough. The Debt Fairy will be successful only if the fairy can be given enough steroids.

On the monetary end, the economy can recover only if the Inflation Fairy is summoned and given enough money (magic) dust to break the "liquidity trap" logjam. And when will inflation be high enough? When Krugman says it is.

If this looks like heads-I-win-tails-you-lose logic, then move to the head of the line. If Krugman is claiming that it takes chutzpah to claim that governments cannot spend a country into prosperity, then he truly has redefined the meaning of that word.

You see, by invoking his third fairy, the Spending Fairy, Krugman is the one showing chutzpah. Why? He is the one who truly believes that we can totally uncouple government spending from any constraints that an economy lays upon it.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Yes, Krugman, Empower the Inflation Fairy

Lest anyone think that Paul Krugman is an economist, his latest column bemoaning the lack of hardcore inflation presents every reason as to why he is a crank, although a famous crank. Yes, the Inflation Fairy has the answer: sprinkle magic dust and watch it turn into money, lots of money. We'll all be rich!

Let us read Krugman in his own words: this point, inflation — at barely above 1 percent by the Fed’s favored measure — is dangerously low.

Why is low inflation a problem? One answer is that it discourages borrowing and spending and encourages sitting on cash. Since our biggest economic problem is an overall lack of demand, falling inflation makes that problem worse.

Low inflation also makes it harder to pay down debt, worsening the private-sector debt troubles that are a main reason overall demand is too low.
But it gets better:
So why is inflation falling? The answer is the economy’s persistent weakness, which keeps workers from bargaining for higher wages and forces many businesses to cut prices. And if you think about it for a minute, you realize that this is a vicious circle, in which a weak economy leads to too-low inflation, which perpetuates the economy’s weakness.

And this brings us to a broader point: the utter folly of not acting to boost the economy, now.
One can surmise that Krugman really believes that if Ben Bernanke were to unload his proverbial helicopter and shower Americans with lots of money to the tune of, say, a million dollars apiece, then the economy would have plenty of demand and everyone would be rich. It would be so easy. Granted, the Inflation Fairy would have a beard and her wings would look like helicopter rotors, but she still could turn magic dust into money.

There is another reason I say Krugman is no economist, and the following statement demonstrates my point:
From the beginning, it was or at least should have been obvious that the financial crisis had plunged us into a “liquidity trap,” a situation in which many people figure that they might just as well sit on cash. America spent most of the 1930s in a liquidity trap; Japan has been in one since the mid-1990s. And we’re in one now.

Economists who had studied such traps — a group that included Ben Bernanke and, well, me — knew that some of the usual rules of economics are in abeyance as long as the trap lasts. Budget deficits, for example, don’t drive up interest rates; printing money isn’t inflationary; slashing government spending has really destructive effects on incomes and employment.
Perhaps the most important "rules" of economics to be "suspended" by a "liquidity trap" is the Law of Opportunity Cost and the Law of Scarcity, or so Krugman would have us believe. Interestingly, he wants us to believe that by the simple act of printing lots of money, government essentially is creating real wealth, as in Krugman's view, governments self-generate wealth.

For all of the Keynesians out there who believe that the real problem is "idle resources" that can be "stimulated" by government doling out lots and lots of new cash, one must remember that after the new money has been farmed out to the economy, people will act, whether they pay down debts or use it to spend on consumption goods.

However, what they want us to believe is that after the Inflation Fairy unloads her magic dust and people have gone on a spending spree, somehow the economy then will magically arise and move forward. All that was needed was some "pump priming"!

But why should that be the case. Why should the act of dumping a lot of new money on people give long-term revival to the economy? How is it that a bunch of new money the first time around would awaken the owners of those "idle resources" but not be needed for round two and beyond? Krugman writes of the economy "gaining traction," but he never explains what it means.

This last point is important, for Krugman and his followers want us to believe that after a massive round of distributing new money (and the new money always goes to those most in need), the prosperity that follows will move into ever-widening circles and spreads employment to the unemployed. In other words, Krugman wants us to believe at least a little bit more inflation will bring hope:
I wrote recently about how, by allowing long-term unemployment to persist, we’re creating a permanent class of unemployed Americans. The problem of too-low inflation is very different in detail, but similar in its implications: here, too, by letting short-run economic problems fester we’re setting ourselves up for a long-run, perhaps permanent, pattern of economic failure.
It has been a long time since an economist was publicly willing to claim that inflation would bring prosperity, give that a lot of us still remember the huge inflation that occurred around 1980, and it was not a wonder drug. (Krugman would argue that we were not in a liquidity trap, so the laws of economics were different.)

But here is the problem: over time, a new bounce in the economy becomes dependent upon yet another round of inflation. At first, inflation seems to be a miracle cure, as no doubt a bunch of new money in the hands of at least some people will make them better off relative to others. They will spend or maybe pay off some debts and be able to purchase things at prices that reflect the time before the surge of new money. (It takes a while for the money to work its way through the economy and finally push up prices, although the process of increasing prices will be uneven.)

But then what? Because it was the inflation that produced the temporary surge in activity, the only way to replicate the economic bounce is to inject another round of new money. This time, the "good" effects are not quite as good and the "bad" effects become a little more pronounced. One can understand what happens as this process is repeated time and again.

When the 1960s began, even though the economy was in a recession, nonetheless times overall were pretty good and inflation was low. As the government began to grow massively during the next decade and the American military venture into Vietnam metastasized, the government, through the Fed, turned to more and more inflation. By 1965, all silver coins were gone (although the government insisted that the new "sandwich" coins were just as valuable as the old silver ones), and by 1971, there was a monetary crisis.

The theme of Krugman's column is that inflation itself can bring prosperity to an economy languishing in a "liquidity trap." I have no doubt that a massive injection of money into the hands of people like me would have a stimulative effect -- at first. As I noted before, this would not be real prosperity, but rather a trap. Unfortunately, Krugman really does believe that inflation -- the debasing of the marginal unit of money -- is the key to a new prosperity.

And it all comes out in three words: not enough inflation. It is better spoken in two words: Inflation Fairy. Or maybe it is better spoken in one word: insanity.