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Forum Post: End this Depression How? By Fred Block

Posted 5 years ago on June 6, 2012, 3:37 a.m. EST by PeterKropotkin (1050) from Oakland, CA
This content is user submitted and not an official statement

End This Depression Now! By Paul Krugman W. W. Norton & Company, 2012, 272 pp. Paul Krugman is stepping up to play the kind of role that John Maynard Keynes performed in the 1930s—arguing in clear accessible language for the government to spend to get us out of the slump. End This Depression Now! is his just-published polemic against the austerians—the powerful tribe found on both sides of the Atlantic that insists on balanced budgets. The book frequently hits the mark, but there is a crucial weakness that undermines the power of Krugman’s case.

He is so exasperated with the lack of serious arguments by the advocates of austerity that he oversimplifies his own argument. Krugman insists that getting the U.S. economy out of the ditch is just a question of adding enough government spending to make up for the shortfall in private demand. He knows, however, that sooner or later, high rates of private investment will have to kick in if a real recovery is to be sustained.

But when will this happen? One of the key elements of private investment—construction of single-family homes—has dropped precipitously and might never return to pre-downturn levels. In 2006 new single-family homes represented more than 18 percent of private fixed investment, but by 2011 had fallen to 5.7 percent. And since further suburban and exurban growth raises deep environmental problems, it is not clear that a full recovery of this sector is desirable. But what types of private investment will rise to fill in that gap? Krugman doesn’t even entertain this question.

Krugman disconnects his policy prescriptions from his diagnosis of the causes of the crisis. Worse, he explains the downturn as the consequence of financial excesses and then immediately turns to the task of stimulating demand.

Keynes and likeminded thinkers in the United States in the thirties took a different tack; they made a structural argument about the origins of the crisis. They argued that the speculative excesses of the 1920s that produced the crash were caused by deep underlying problems, particularly the maldistribution of income. This allowed them to insist on the need for both immediate government stimulus and policies that actively redistributed income. This powerful linkage worked to insulate the reform project from right-wing counterattacks. In fact, Milton Friedman’s strategy for undoing the New Deal was to argue that there were no structural causes of the Great Depression; it was the result of policy mistakes by the Federal Reserve.

Both in End This Depression Now! and elsewhere, Krugman is an eloquent critic of increasing income and wealth inequality. Yet he is unwilling to follow Keynes on this key point. He even asks at one point: “But is there also an arrow of causation running directly from income inequality to financial crisis?” His answer is uncharacteristically timid: “Maybe, but it’s a harder case to make.”

Failing to make that case has the ironic effect of ceding the structuralist high ground to right-wing economists. Take a recent column by David Brooks, “The Structural Revolution,” which argues against a “cyclicalist” approach to the recession:

But you can only mask structural problems for so long. The whole thing has gone kablooey. The current model, in which we try to compensate for structural economic weakness with tax cuts and an unsustainable welfare state, simply cannot last. The old model is broken. The jig is up. The fallacious conservative argument is that irresponsible borrowing by governments, individuals, and businesses caused the meltdown, so across-the-board austerity is the only solution. The biggest obstacles to recovery, in their story, are a shortage of workers with sufficient skills and investor anxieties about continuing public deficits.

Krugman effectively demolishes this right-wing version of structuralism. But people naturally gravitate to explanations of great events that invoke some kind of big and powerful causal mechanism. By treating the initial crisis as an anomaly caused by irresponsible financial behavior, Krugman fails to deliver such an explanation and leaves the Right’s story untouched. Without an alternative narrative about what went wrong, their “too-much-borrowing” fairytale will remain hegemonic.

But we do have an alternative big story—and we need Krugman’s megaphone to help get it out. One piece is the argument that Occupy Wall Street has made: when the 1 percent grabs most of the gains from economic growth, as they have over recent years, bad things happen. The 99 percent have to either limit their consumption or increase their borrowing and go further into debt. Either way, effective demand in the economy will ultimately be restricted. At the same time, multi-millionaires think nothing of putting big sums into extremely risky investments that promise high returns because they already have more dollars than they or their children will ever need. But unlike polo or auto racing, this dangerous hobby of the rich can actually blow up the global economy. Thanks to JPMorgan Chase’s huge losses last week, we know that the biggest banks still can’t resist playing this treacherous game, especially when they’re trying to keep up with the richest kids (the hedge funds).

This runaway speculation is a sign of how our financial system has failed to direct capital in productive directions. As environmentalists have been arguing for forty years, an economic growth path based on cheap oil and coal and urban sprawl is no longer sustainable. But entrenched interests and a dysfunctional financial system have blocked the huge public and private investments in resource-conserving technologies—renewable energy, mass-transit systems, and less wasteful patterns of land use—that would generate durable and sustainable growth.

So, yes, let’s end this depression now by new government stimulus, but let’s also make structural reforms to redistribute income and to accelerate investments in the long-delayed clean-energy economy. As Krugman makes clear, no one should listen to the austerians. After all, they are basically the same cabal of climate-change deniers and ultra-rich—think the Koch brothers—who got us.into this mess.




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[-] 3 points by TitusMoans (2451) from Boulder City, NV 5 years ago

A few will instantly retort to this post with typical right-wing propaganda about the magic-money machine, which of course always ends in disaster.

They overlook that a major contributor to both the Great Depression and our current depression is none other than supply-side economics, called humorously trickle-down economics by Will Rogers, because the money never did trickle down.

But they still cling to the notion that somehow the 1% really care about sharing the wealth and improving the economy for the 99%.

[-] -2 points by secnoot (-14) 5 years ago

If spending is the answer, why not just make 100 quadrillion available in the economy? Or 100 or 1,000 times that amount? Why no just make everything free?

The only answer is to control spending and to not spend more than you have. Social programs always fail because you can never make enough free sandwiches.

[-] 1 points by know1 (210) 5 years ago

why did world war 2 end the great deprssion. Because ,it was a massive stimulus package,the procedes of which were usless. Thats shows how much surplus there is

[-] 1 points by DKAtoday (33474) from Coon Rapids, MN 5 years ago

It did not. National public works programs did that.

[-] 1 points by know1 (210) 5 years ago

belive me, I would prefer spending on useful beautiful things, we could truly have a beautiful world, there is plenty of money ( resources ), it should be our choice what to spend it on ( things that help the world, not hurt it )

[-] 1 points by MattLHolck (16833) from San Diego, CA 5 years ago

it didn't

government work programs ended the depression

[-] 2 points by know1 (210) 5 years ago

ok , did the war hurt our economy

[-] 2 points by know1 (210) 5 years ago

the work programs spent about 20 billion, the war 260 billion. Im just saying , that 260 b could have been spent on good things

[-] 2 points by DKAtoday (33474) from Coon Rapids, MN 5 years ago

WWII was a gold mine for the whole economy as it involved the whole economy. It forced certain deprivations such as in rationing. But it threw much of the money straight out into the whole economy - even while it made war profiteers extremely fat.

[-] 2 points by know1 (210) 5 years ago

im just saying all that $ could have been spent to help the world instead. THE MONEY WAS AVALABLE !! Balanceing the buget was not nessesary

[-] 1 points by DKAtoday (33474) from Coon Rapids, MN 5 years ago

Yes as it should be being spent now. But there was a current and well defined evil at the time that needed to be faced with all that we had.

We are in a position of strength now. And we should be using our technology and resources to the benefit of all humanity. Export products of peace.

Fight tyranny with products that help societies and not regimes.

Apply technology to ending fossil fuel strife.

Yep - this is what we should be doing.

Prosperity "for People".

[-] 1 points by know1 (210) 5 years ago

YES ! and that well defined evil may have never got a foothold if we had done that before the war

[-] 2 points by DKAtoday (33474) from Coon Rapids, MN 5 years ago

The Nazi's did rise out of a poverty stricken Country still being held accountable for WWI. If prosperity for all had been pushed back then the Nazi's would not have found so many desperate and eager idle hands. Without those masses the Nazi party likely would have failed - and by extension the Japanese would likely not have felt it possible to go on a campaign of empire building.

[-] 1 points by know1 (210) 5 years ago

DKA, would u read may post (free money (well some)

[-] 1 points by DKAtoday (33474) from Coon Rapids, MN 5 years ago

Sure I can have a look.

[-] 1 points by MattLHolck (16833) from San Diego, CA 5 years ago

the US and Briton had already been empire building

[-] 1 points by DKAtoday (33474) from Coon Rapids, MN 5 years ago

Briton has always been an empire builder - a conqueror of countries.

What empire building of the USA do you refer to?

[-] 1 points by MattLHolck (16833) from San Diego, CA 5 years ago

much of the continent itself

Hawaii didn't become a state until 1959


[-] 1 points by DKAtoday (33474) from Coon Rapids, MN 5 years ago

After the conquest of the north American continent was finished the inclusion of Alaska and Hawaii and somewhat of Puerto Rico . The USA has not continued on a program of conquest - per say. Corporations are now in the process of world wide conquest including the conquest of the USA.


[-] 1 points by Cvacca (-24) 5 years ago

No it didn't. Go back and look at the budget numbers. An overwhelming amount of the tax dollars went to the top ten contractors. There was very little economic growth outside those industries. That's why there were labor strikes during the war.

[-] 1 points by DKAtoday (33474) from Coon Rapids, MN 5 years ago

Labor got the shaft but business as a whole got gravy. Those top ten suppliers had to subcontract and those subcontractors had to subcontract and so yes the money got spread around even to underpaid workers.

The workers/people have always been shorted. Hence the advent of unions and the fight for workers rights. Unions never went far enough though and should have found a way to unite with all workers.

Now unions are piecemeal - fragmented - and corrupt to one extent or another - just like government.

[-] 1 points by MattLHolck (16833) from San Diego, CA 5 years ago

the national debt in 1946 was 120% of GDP


Gross Domestic Product measures the transfer all money in the US

GNP (National National Domestic Product measures money exchanged for goods and services.

another index