Krugman’s blog, 7/14/15

There were four posts on Bastille Day.  The first was “The Face of the Base:”

Joe Weisenthal asked me why Donald Trump is riding so high in the polls; as he said, my answer was subtle and nuanced.

But seriously, why is anyone surprised? Year after year the GOP base has been fed fantasies about death panels, senior figures have flirted with birtherism and routinely peddled conspiracy theories whenever good news arrives about health reform or the economy, a centrist president has been portrayed as a socialist who hates America, sitting governors have deferred to craziness over military exercises. Oh, and the unemployed have been blamed for their own plight, food stamp recipients and the disabled portrayed as malingerers. Then along comes Trump, who embodies the base’s values, its intellectual outlook, its deep lack of empathy for the unfortunate. And up goes the cry: “Don’t base voters realize that he’s not a serious figure?”

Yesterday’s second post was “Faithocrats:”

One of the ideas floating around in the aftermath of the sack of Athens has been that of, in effect, deposing Syriza from outside and installing a “technocratic” government. It wouldn’t be the first time in this dismal saga, and I won’t be surprised if it happens, for a few months anyway.

But let me note, as I have before, that what Europe calls technocrats aren’t people who know how the world works; they’re people who subscribe to the approved fantasies, and never change their minds no matter how badly wrong things go. Despite the overwhelming evidence that austerity has exactly the dire effects basic textbook macro says it will, they cling to belief in the confidence fairy. Despite a striking lack of evidence that “structural reform” delivers much of a growth boost, especially in an economy suffering from a huge output gap, they continue to present structural reform — mainly in the form of disempowering workers — as a sovereign remedy for all ills. Despite a clear record of past failure, they continue to push for asset sales as a supposed answer to debt overhang.

In short, what Europe usually means by a “technocrat” is a Very Serious Person, someone distinguished by his faith in received orthodoxy no matter the evidence. It’s as Keynes said:

Worldly wisdom teaches that it is better for reputation to fail conventionally than to succeed unconventionally.

And it looks as if there’s a lot more failing conventionally in Europe’s future.

The third post yesterday was “The Pause of 2014:”

Part of the background to the sack of Athens is the widespread belief among Europe’s austerians that, despite everything that has happened, they are in the process of being vindicated. After all, growth has resumed in the GIIPS countries – in fact, even Greece was growing until Syriza came to power and scared away the confidence fairy.

Now, many of us took on similar claims in the UK – and quickly noted that a large part of the story behind the resumption of British growth in 2013-2014 was actually a pause in fiscal consolidation. Confusion between levels and rates of change is endemic here — actually, it’s just amazing how much discussion of macroeconomics since the crisis is nonsense because people who imagine themselves sophisticated are muddled about the difference between levels and changes. But the models are completely clear: the rate of growth of GDP should depend on the change in the structural budget balance. So you would expect GDP growth to pick up, other things equal, if there is a slowdown in the pace of tightening even if austerity isn’t actually reversed.

So how does the story of the GIIPS fit into this analysis? Exhibit 1 shows the overall stance of fiscal policy in the GIIPS, using the IMF’s estimate of the structural budget balance as a share of potential GDP — an imperfect measure, but good enough, I think, to make the point. To get a single number I weight countries by their 2009 PPP GDP, also from the IMF. The story is clear: rapid, drastic tightening from 2009 to 2013, but a standstill in 2014. A revival of growth in 2014 is therefore no surprise — and it actually supports the Keynesian story, rather than refuting it.

Exhibit 1
Exhibit 1

Exhibit 2 shows things a bit differently, with more detail. Each point in the scatterplot represents an individual GIIPS country in a given year, with the horizontal axis showing the change in the structural balance — effectively, the additional austerity imposed in that year — and the vertical axis representing the rate of growth. As usual, we see a clear negative association, consistent with a Keynesian story.

Exhibit 2
Exhibit 2

In addition to the usual scatter, however, I have marked the observations for 2014 in red. As you can see, 2014 was a year of modest growth for all of the countries; it was also a year in which fiscal consolidation was effectively put on hold. And the outcomes were well within a range consistent with the previous austerity-growth relationship.

So is there anything at all here suggesting that it’s OK to impose further fiscal tightening on Greece, that this won’t deepen its depression? For that matter, does Greece even stand out as having done worse than you would expect given the incredibly harsh fiscal adjustment? No and no.

The last post yesterday was “Invisible Green Triumphs:”

Like a number of commentators, I’ve been struck by how people on the right know, just know, that Obamacare has been a dismal failure. More than 15 million Americans have gained coverage, costs are well below predictions, and employment growth has accelerated since the “job-killing” law went into effect — but they know none of that, because all they hear from their preferred information sources is tales of disaster.

Some things I’ve been reading lately remind me that there’s another major Obama initiative that is the subject of similar delusions: the promotion of green energy. Everyone on the right knows that the stimulus-linked efforts to promote solar and wind were a bust — Solyndra! Solyndra! Benghazi! — and in general they still seem to regard renewables as hippie-dippy stuff that will never go anywhere.

So it comes as something of a shock when you look at the actual data, and discover that solar and wind energy consumption has tripled under Obama.

Energy Information Administration

True, it started from a low base, but green energy is no longer a marginal factor — and with solar panels experiencing Moore’s Law-type cost declines, we’re looking at a real transformation looking forward.

You can argue about how much this transformation owes to federal policy. But only a combination of rigid preconceptions and sheer ignorance can explain the way right-wingers still go around sniggering about Obama’s green-energy promotion. Far from being a bust, that policy was at least a contributing factor to an energy revolution.

Sorry about the delay in posting this, but my ‘puter developed a bad case of the gremlins earlier.  Thank the FSM rebooting it helped…


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One Response to “Krugman’s blog, 7/14/15”

  1. Pernicious Deviancy Says:

    Let’s just say the Germans prefer to use clout rather than subtle moves. To what end? Is a non paying debtor better dead than red?

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