In his latest New York Times column, economist Paul Krugman criticizes the “pain caucus” in Europe, notably the European Central Bank (ECB), for insisting that sound money and balanced budgets will somehow fix all of the continent’s fiscal woes. Austerity, he argues, is failing and American policymakers would be ill advised to repeat it in their own country.
Krugman’s column is unfortunately so filled with mischaracterizations and outright blunders that it is difficult to purely dissect his Keynesian alternative. In fact, he doesn’t offer much of an alternative to austerity at all except to suggest “debt reduction,” which means restructuring. He has traditionally championed stimulus though and blamed the “arrogance” of Europe’s policy elite for “pushing” the continent into adopting a single currency well before it was supposedly “ready for such an experiment.” Krugman then is no fan of the euro and hasn’t ever had much respect for Europe.
The ECB, writes Krugman this week, claims “that raising interest rates and slashing government spending in the face of mass unemployment will somehow make things better instead of worse” but only half of that statement is perfectly true. Frankfurt has been urging budget cuts but kept interest rates low at the same time not to make matters worse in the highly indebted eurozone countries of the south. Austerity, moreover, is not supposed to get people back to work directly. The point is to avert sovereign bankruptcy as would have happened in Greece and possibly Ireland without European support by restoring confidence on bond markets.
Krugman characterizes this as “belief in the confidence fairy — that is, belief that slashing spending will actually create jobs, because fiscal austerity will improve private-sector confidence.” That’s more accurate although budget cuts in themselves won’t create jobs. The private sector will if it has confidence in future growth.
But, “the confidence fairy hasn’t shown up,” writes Krugman. Case in point? Greece, Portugal and Spain where unemployment remains high. He is right but also disingenuous in pretending that those countries have fully implemented austerity measures yet — while not considering the nations that have. Read more “Is Austerity Failing?”