Krugman’s blog, 1/14/17

There was one post yesterday, “Infrastructure Delusions:”


Wikiality.com

Ben Bernanke has a longish post about fiscal policy in the Caligula Trump era. It’s not the most entertaining read; perhaps because of the political fraughtness of the moment, Bernanke has reverted a bit to Fedspeak. But there’s some solid insight, a lot of it pretty much in line with what I have been saying.

Notably, Bernanke, like yours truly, argues that the fiscal-stimulus case for deficit spending has gotten much weaker, but there’s still a case for borrowing to build infrastructure:

When I was Fed chair, I argued on a number of occasions against fiscal austerity (tax increases, spending cuts). The economy at the time was suffering from high unemployment, and with monetary policy operating close to its limits, I pushed (unsuccessfully) for fiscal policies to increase aggregate demand and job creation. Today, with the economy approaching full employment, the need for demand-side stimulus, while perhaps not entirely gone, is surely much less than it was three or four years ago. There is still a case for fiscal policy action today, but to increase output without unduly increasing inflation the focus should be on improving productivity and aggregate supply—for example, through improved public infrastructure that makes our economy more efficient or tax reforms that promote private capital investment.

But he gently expresses doubt that this kind of thing is actually going to happen:

In particular, will Republicans be willing to support big increases in spending, including infrastructure spending? Alternatively, if Congress opts to reduce the deficit impact of an infrastructure program by financing it through tax credits and public-private partnerships, as candidate Trump proposed, the program might turn out to be relatively small.

Let me be less gentle: there will be no significant public investment program, for two reasons.

First, Congressional Republicans have no interest in such a program. They’re hell-bent on depriving millions of health care and cutting taxes at the top; they aren’t even talking about public investment, and would probably drag their feet even if Trump came forward with a detailed plan and made it a priority.

But this then raises the obvious question: who really believes that this crew is going to come up with a serious plan? Trump has no policy shop, nor does he show any intention of creating one; he’s too busy tweeting about perceived insults from celebrities, and he’s creating a cabinet of people who know nothing about their responsibilities. Any substantive policy actions will be devised and turned into legislation by Congressional Republicans who, again, have zero interest in a public investment program.

So investors betting on a big infrastructure push are almost surely deluding themselves. We may see some conspicuous privatizations, especially if they come with naming opportunities: maybe putting in new light fixtures will let him rename Hoover Dam as Trump Dam? But little or no real investment is coming.

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One Response to “Krugman’s blog, 1/14/17”

  1. Russian Sage Says:

    So the oil patch wizard is going to drain the Gulf of shrimp, sell it to the Russkies and hope not to get caught? The Pumpkin will toil on twitter while his sons negotiate licensing contracts requiring the skills of a patent atty, and the rest of the breed will sell junk bonds? That’s hardly worth an indictment. I’m suggesting it will be more like Haliburton. Raise some eyebrows but get lost in the War. The TMZ stuff will be left to Murdoch. That’s what I’d be watching. Not AT&T but Disney and Comcast. Too early to sell short. Stay outta taxis.

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