This is the last post in my analysis and commentary on Bruce Bartlett's testimony to the Senate Budget Committee. There's one very significant issue left to discuss, and that is the issue of fiscal gap and generational accounting and whether it should be institutionalized in legislation. I'll begin this post with that discussion and then end the series with my overall evaluation of his effort.
Fiscal Gap and Generational Accounting
15. Generational accounting exaggerates the burden of debt. Intergenerational accounting attempts to assess financial burdens through time, especially with a view to claiming that financial decisions taken in one generation can impose burdens on another. But this argument refuses to count as real assets the infrastructure and other national assets that the current generation will leave for future generations, and it does not understand that federal government debt never needs to be retired. In real terms, there obviously are no intergenerational transfers, except for the knowledge, the physical assets and the larger environment, which the present leaves to the future. The real goods produced in 2050 will be distributed to those alive in 2050, regardless of the public debt in existence at that time. Meanwhile, the U.S. government can always meet its payments when they come due. . . .
The deficit is now down to under 3% of GDP, and in contemplating that fact, Paul Krugman asks why the deficit hawks aren't celebrating the precipitous fall from nearly 10% of GDP a few years ago. He then explains that:
Far from celebrating the deficit’s decline, the usual suspects — fiscal-scold think tanks, inside-the-Beltway pundits — seem annoyed by the news. It’s a “false victory,” they declare. “Trillion dollar deficits are coming back,” they warn. And they’re furious with President Obama for saying that it’s time to get past “mindless austerity” and “manufactured crises.” He’s declaring mission accomplished, they say, when he should be making another push for entitlement reform.
All of which demonstrates a truth that has been apparent for a while, if you have been paying close attention: Deficit scolds actually love big budget deficits, and hate it when those deficits get smaller. Why? Because fears of a fiscal crisis — fears that they feed assiduously — are their best hope of getting what they really want: big cuts in social programs.
Paul Krugman's recent post makes some good points about the myth of the undeserving poor. But does he have a nervous tic?. When criticizing conservative economic views, doesn't he always seem to genuflect slightly to conservative opinion in order to appear "reasonable"? In this post he says:
"I’ve noted before that conservatives seem fixated on the notion that poverty is basically the result of character problems among the poor. This may once have had a grain of truth to it, but for the past three decades and more the main obstacle facing the poor has been the lack of jobs paying decent wages. But the myth of the undeserving poor persists, and so does a counterpart myth, that of the deserving rich."
What "grain of truth" ever existed in this story? Where is the empirical evidence that the poor were ever more "lazy" than the rich or had other "character defects" (Not K's words) that the rich don't have in abundance, as well? I don't think there is any. What the conservatives believe is pure BS. Some people are certainly "lazier" than others. But there's no evidence that this aspect of character is class-based. It's just prejudice, myth, and conservative fairy tales, which they embrace in place of authentic religion, run rampant. Read more about Professor Krugman's Nervous Tic?
Paul Krugman suggests in his New York Times column today that continuing the expansion of Medicaid is the answer to the outlandish cost of health care in the United States. He's wrong. Medicaid is a lifeline for the impoverished, but the program would have to be reformed to the point that it would no longer be recognizable as Medicaid to be satisfactory for most Americans.
The reason Krugman likes Medicaid is the program's success at controlling costs. He says that of all the health care delivery systems in the country, Medicaid is the one most like those in Europe, which have much lower costs than ours. If that's true, it's only because most of the rest of our fragmented system is completely fucked up.
Among the primary aims of European systems is health care equity — providing everybody with the same access to high-quality health care regardless of income or station. Medicaid does not come close to doing that. Krugman says that care from Medicaid providers is good and that lack of access is greatly exaggerated. In my experience the former is sometimes true and the latter, never. Read more about Paul Krugman is wrong about Medicaid
”. . . we’d all agree that deficits make us poorer if they crowd out investment spending — which they would if the economy were near full employment, but won’t if we’re deeply depressed. All we have to do is realize that net foreign investment — purchases minus sales of assets from and to foreigners — is also a form of investment. Or to put it a bit more simply, sure, budget deficits can make us poorer as a nation if they lead to bigger trade deficits.”
Who else thinks the President's speech didn't include any plans to create the 29 million full-time jobs for the dis-employed? Please raise your hand!
About jobs he said:
”We can help big factories and small businesses double their exports, and if we choose this path, we can create a million new manufacturing jobs in the next four years.”
This post continues the critical evaluation of Dylan Matthews's, post published on Ezra Klein's blog called “You know the deficit hawks. Now meet the deficit owls.”
The Inflation/Hyperinflation Bogeyman Read more about WaPo Covers MMT, But Does Its Usual Bad Job: Part Two, Inflation/Hyperinflation
Paul Krugman took another shot at Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) today. He began with this claim:
"Regular readers of comments will notice a continual stream of criticism from MMT (modern monetary theory) types, who insist that deficits are never a problem as long as you have your own currency."
If "patients are not consumers" then why in the name of sweet suffering Jeebus is neoliberal, market-based HCR "on the table"?
Why not single payer? Heck, why not the National Health Service? Professor? One despairs.
Indeed. And some choose to suppress discussion of single payer and shill for the Ds and Obamacare, and some choose to advocate for a policy that saves lives and money. Krugman's lead: Read more about Krugman on health care: "Choices Must Be Made"
One commenter at FireDogLake says:
”. . . we should be exceptionally careful not to jeopardize the hard-fought for benefits (like S.S.) by risking devaluation of the dollar. That would be truly tragic.”
and another at New Economic Perspectives says about Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) and inflation: Read more about Worrying About Demand-Pull Inflation Is A Distraction
In the big budget fight going on right now in Congress, the Tea Party conservatives rightly point out that $61 Billion in spending cuts is just a drop in the bucket compared to the $1.6 Trillion predicted deficit, and they react with a great deal of moral fervor to the suggestion that they ought to compromise on $33 Billion in cuts in order to avoid shutting down the Government. That moral fervor sounds perfectly reasonable to me as long as one agrees that Government spending causes inflation, that we now have a huge deficit, debt problem in the United States that we must solve, or face national insolvency in the not too distant future, and also if the people afire with moral fervor would also apply that to the issue of the wealthy paying their fair share of taxes. Read more about Neo-Liberalism Can't Beat the Tea Party: But MMT Can
(Reprinted with the Permission of the Author)
(Editor's Note: This is a long and difficult piece, originally published at Yves Smith's Naked Capitalism site, and has an academic style. But, nevertheless, if you want to understand more about what the Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) school of economics has to offer, it is well worth your investment of time. It is the definitive critique of Paul Krugman's two recent blog posts on MMT, in my view.
In addition, in the process of criticizing Paul's views, Scott Fullwiler illuminates a lot of the deep thinking and knowledge developed by those following the MMT approach over many years, now. If you read this, you can see just how far off-base Paul Krugman is in his attempt to de-construct MMT, and you can also see how much work Paul has to do to really understand what his colleague economists using the MMT approach have developed.)
The old saying that bad press is better than no press is definitely true in this case. Without the advent of the blogosphere, our work would likely never even be noticed by the likes of Paul Krugman, so the fact that he’s writing about us (here and here) this weekend at least means we’re doing better than that, even if his assessment of us is far less than glowing. At the same time, and particularly given that Krugman is so widely read, it’s imperative to at the very least set the record straight on where MMT and Krugman differ. I should note before I start that others have done very good critiques already that overlap mine in several places (see here, here, here, and here).
Krugman makes three incorrect assumptions about what MMT policy proposals actually are while also demonstrating a lack of understanding of our modern monetary system (as is generally verified by volumes of empirical research on the monetary system by both MMT’ers and non-MMTer’s). These are the following:
Assumption A: The size of the monetary base directly (or indirectly, for that matter) affects inflation if we’re not in a “liquidity trap”
Assumption B: MMT’s preferred fiscal policy approach or strategy—Abba Lerner’s functional finance—is Non-Ricardian
Assumption C: Bond markets alone set interest rates on the national debt of a sovereign currency issuer operating under flexible exchange rates
Assumptions A and C are central to the Neo-Liberal macroeconomic model. Assumption B is a common misconception about MMT and a common perception of Neo-Liberals about the nature and macroeconomic effects of fiscal policy (i.e., Neo-Liberals often believe that activist fiscal policy is Non-Ricardian). Read more about Paul Krugman – The Conscience of a Neo--Liberal
After the scorching he received in many of the comments on his printing press post Paul Krugman decided to dig his MMT blogging hole even deeper.
“. . . I think one way to clarify my difference with, say, Jamie Galbraith is this: imagine that at some future date, say in 2017, we’re more or less at full employment and have a federal deficit equal to 6 percent of GDP. Does it matter whether the United States can still sell bonds on international markets?