There were two posts yesterday. The first was “Monetarism Falls Short (Somewhat Wonkish):”
The central debate over macroeconomic policy is, of course, between Keynesians and Austerians. And at this point the Keynesians have overwhelmingly won the debate everywhere except where it matters – the intellectual basis for austerity economics has collapsed, but actual austerity continues apace on both sides of the Atlantic.
There have, however, been a couple of side shows, with what I guess now constitutes mainstream Keynesianism – carried forth in public debate by Martin Wolf, Simon Wren-Lewis, Brad DeLong, Jonathan Portes, Paul DeGrauwe, and whatshisface, among others – subjected to non-austerian criticism on both flanks. On the left are the Modern Monetary Theory types, who assert exactly what the austerians like to claim, falsely, is the Keynesian position – that budget deficits never matter (except for their direct effect on aggregate demand). On the right are the market monetarists like Scott Sumner and David Beckworth, who insist that the Fed could solve the slump if it wanted to, and that fiscal policy is irrelevant.
Now, there won’t and can’t be any current-events test of MMT until we get out of the slump, because standard IS-LM and MMT are indistinguishable when you’re in a liquidity trap. But as Mike Konczal points out, we are in effect getting a test of the market monetarist view right now, with the Fed having adopted more expansionary policies even as fiscal policy tightens.
And the results aren’t looking good for the monetarists: despite the Fed’s fairly dramatic changes in both policy and policy announcements, austerity seems to be taking its toll. I would add that the UK experience provides a similar lesson. Mervyn King advocated fiscal consolidation – I’d say that he shares equal responsibility with Cameron/Osborne for Britain’s wrong turn — but more or less promised (pdf) that he would and could offset any adverse effects on growth with monetary policy. He didn’t and couldn’t.
I’m not claiming that there is nothing the central bank can do; but as I’ve tried to explain before, monetary policy can, for the most part, gain traction under current circumstances only by changing expectations about future actions (and changing them a lot). Meanwhile, fiscal policy has a direct, current effect on the economy, which easily trumps attempts to move the economy by changing the Fed’s messaging.
Sorry, guys, but as a practical matter the Fed – while it should be doing more – can’t make up for contractionary fiscal policy in the face of a depressed economy.
The second post of the day was “Knaves, Fools and Me (Meta):”
One criticism I face fairly often is the assertion that I must be dishonest — I must be cherry-picking my evidence, or something — because the way I describe it, I’m always right while the people who disagree with me are always wrong. And not just wrong, they’re often knaves or fools. How likely is that?
But may I suggest, respectfully, that there’s another possibility? Maybe I actually am right, and maybe the other side actually does contain a remarkable number of knaves and fools.
The first point to notice is that I do, in fact, perform a kind of cherry-picking — not of facts, but of issues to write about. There are many issues on which I see legitimate debate, from the long-run trend of housing prices to the effects of immigration on wages. And in happier times I would probably write more about such issues than I do, and the tone of my column and blog would be a lot more genteel. But right now I believe that we’re failing miserably in responding to economic disaster, so I focus my writing on attacking the doctrines and, to some extent, the people responsible for this wrong-headed response.
But can the debate really be as one-sided as I portray it? Well, look at the results: again and again, people on the opposite side prove to have used bad logic, bad data, the wrong historical analogies, or all of the above. I’m Krugtron the Invincible!
Am I (and others on my side of the issue) that much smarter than everyone else? No. The key to understanding this is that the anti-Keynesian position is, in essence, political. It’s driven by hostility to active government policy and, in many cases, hostility to any intellectual approach that might make room for government policy. Too many influential people just don’t want to believe that we’re facing the kind of economic crisis we are actually facing.
And so you have the spectacle of famous economists retreading 80-year-old fallacies, or misunderstanding basic concepts like Ricardian equivalence; of powerful officials instantly canonizing research papers that turn out to be garbage in, garbage out; and so on down the line.
I know, the critics will respond that I’m the one who’s being political — but again, look at how the debate has run so far.
The point is not that I have an uncanny ability to be right; it’s that the other guys have an intense desire to be wrong. And they’ve achieved their goal.