Krugman still doesn't get it
[A] combination of rising tax receipts and falling spending has caused federal borrowing to plunge. This is actually a bad thing, because premature deficit-cutting damages our still-weak economy — in fact, we’d probably be close to full employment now but for the unprecedented fiscal austerity of the past three years. But a falling deficit has undermined the scare tactics so central to the “centrist” cause. Even longer-term projections of federal debt no longer look at all alarming.
Finally, over the course of 2013 the intellectual case for debt panic collapsed. Normally, technical debates among economists have relatively little impact on the political world, because politicians can almost always find experts — or, in many cases, “experts” — to tell them what they want to hear. But what happened in the year behind us may have been an exception.
Debt was rising by around 2 per cent of GDP annually; that’s not going to happen in future, which a naïve calculation suggests means a reduction in demand, other things equal, of around 2 percent of GDP.
If the Loanable Funds theory of lending is correct, then rising debt can only tangentially cause an increase in demand (if the borrower spends more than the lender would have done); if on the other hand a change in debt adds roughly one for one to demand, then the Loanable Funds model can’t be right. In other words, Loanable Funds and the argument that macroeconomics can ignore private debt are 'joined at the hip': if one goes, then so must the other.
Let us first examine the Debt Fairy. According to the Keynesians, the U.S. economy (as well as the economies of Europe and Japan) languishes in a “liquidity trap”. This is a condition in which interest rates are near-zero and people hoard money instead of spending it. Lowering interest rates obviously won’t spur more business borrowing, so it is up to the government to take advantage of the low rates and borrow (and borrow).
If governments issue enough debt, argue Debt Fairy True Believers, the economy will gain “traction” as government spending, through the power of pixie dust, fuels a recovery. Governments spend, businesses magically gain confidence, and then they spend and invest. (At this point, we are apparently supposed to just overlook the fact that the Keynesians are saying that we need the Debt Fairy to resurrect the Keynesian version of the Confidence Fairy.)
The Inflation Fairy also plays an important role, according to Keynesians, for if bona fide inflation can take hold in the economy and people watch their money lose value, then they will spend more of their savings. In turn, this destruction of savings will, through the power of Keynesian sorcery, revive the economy. Thus inflation undermines what Keynesians call the “Paradox of Thrift,” a theory that says if a lot of people withhold some present consumption in order to save for future consumption, the economy quickly will implode and ultimately will slip into a Liquidity Trap in which no one will spend anything.
These fairies can work their magic if (and only if) one condition exists: factors of production are homogeneous, which means that government spending will enable all lines of production simultaneously. The actual record of the boom-and-bust cycle, however, tells a different story. It seems that the Debt and Inflation Fairies enable booms along certain lines of production (such as housing during the past decade), but as everyone knows, the fairy dust lost its magical powers and the booms collapsed into recessions.
Austrians such as Mises and Rothbard have well understood what Keynesians do not: the structures of production within an economy are heterogeneous and can be distorted by government intervention through inflation and massive borrowing. Far from being creatures that can “save” an economy, the Debt Fairy and the Inflation Fairy are the architects of economic disaster.
- Debt doesn't matter, and
- Those who think that debt does matter have disappeared