I’m Not Krugman

I'm Not KrugmanPaul Krugman coined a new acronym this morning. He was discussing an article by Larry Summers that argues that we are focusing too much on the deficit. The question is: if this is how Summers feels (and it is; Summers is a White Hat) why does he spend the first two paragraphs talking about how terrible the budget deficit is? And it is to explain this that Krugman coins of the acronym. Summers, he says, is providing these two paragraphs as his INK disclaimer: “I’m Not Krugman.” In other words, “I’m not that crazy liberal Krugman who just happens to be an insanely great economist who won the John Bates Clark Medal and the Nobel Prize.”

The point of Krugman’s article is that Summers is mistaken in thinking that he can have a reasonable conversion with the Very Serious Deficit Scolds. As I’ve written about many times before, these people are not interested in the budget deficit at all. Just look at the gold-standard in the field: the Simpson-Bowles proposal. The first thing is does is cut income tax rates. As Matt Yglesias brilliantly pointed out, this ain’t about deficit reduction!

Krugman says the same thing:

Moreover, most of the deficit scolds don’t really care about the deficit; it’s all really about using deficit fears to bully us into downsizing government and tearing down the safety net. Remember, three of the leading deficit-scold organizations gave Paul Ryan an award for fiscal responsibility even though anyone who understood numbers could see that his plans would actually increase the deficit; and David Walker endorsed Mitt Romney despite his budget-busting proposals on taxes and military spending.

Or consider the deficit-scold habit of hectoring President Obama for failing to endorse a balanced combination of deficit reduction through tax increases and spending cuts, despite the fact that this is exactly what he has endorsed, many times. Why, you’d almost think that deficit-reduction doesn’t count if it comes from a Democrat.

And that gets to something important about our political environment: a lot of those Very Serious Deficit Scolds are Democrats. Erskine Bowles and Ed Rendell come immediately to mind. But on some level, this isn’t even about politics. These people are just paid spokesmen. Krugman again:

The reality, first, is that the deficit scolds—who are, after all, making a living by scolding—depend on constant warnings of imminent fiscal crisis to drum up interest. Saying that it’s a longer-term issue, and not our first priority right now, is not something they can afford to hear.

So trying to have an honest conversation with them is worse than useless: it is dangerous. These people already get far too much attention as though they are something more than paid lobbyists. And that’s the battle we need to fight. Trying to convince them that the budget deficit isn’t a big deal will only hurt matters. As Upton Sinclair said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” And the Very Serious Deficit Scolds’ salaries most definitely depend on not understanding that the deficit is not killing us.

But then, although INK, I totally agree with him.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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