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Krugman On Sequester And Deficit Obsession: 'We're Having The Wrong Conversation'

Nobel prize winning economist and columnist Paul Krugman sat down the MSNBC's Ed Schultz this Friday evening to discuss the recent madness we've been watching with this budget sequestration, which President Obama signed into law this Friday evening. Once again we find Krugman being one of the few voices of reason who is allowed some air time on our corporate media, discussing the fact that this deficit fetishism we're seeing from our politicians is exactly the wrong conversation we should be having right now.
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Nobel prize winning economist and columnist Paul Krugman sat down the MSNBC's Ed Schultz this Friday evening to discuss the recent madness we've been watching with this budget sequestration, which President Obama signed into law this Friday evening. Once again we find Krugman being one of the few voices of reason who is allowed some air time on our corporate media, discussing the fact that this deficit fetishism we're seeing from our politicians is exactly the wrong conversation we should be having right now.

What we should be talking about first and foremost is getting Americans back to work. It was also good to hear some push back against the constant chatter we're hearing from the Villagers in the media who are continually pushing for Chained CPI, and pretending as though cutting Social Security benefits in exchange for "tax reform" -- a.k.a. lowering taxes on rich people and corporations -- is something anyone should think is acceptable, or "balanced" or that would do a thing to help lower the deficit. It would have been nice to hear either of them say out loud that Social Security does not add to the deficit during this interview, but it was only implied and not clarified for the audience.

Here's more on Krugman's conversation with Schultz via Raw Story: Paul Krugman: Sequester ‘was designed to be stupid’:

“This was designed to be stupid,” Krugman said. “The whole point was, this was supposed to be a doomsday device that would force the [Democratic and Republican] parties to reach an agreement. Of course, they didn’t, and here it goes.”

While the effect of the spending cuts would take time to manifest, Krugman told Schultz, they would definitely be felt by late 2013.

“This is exactly what the doctor did not order,” he said.

While the spending cuts were conceived as a fix for the federal deficit, Krugman said, this was not the time to implement that kind of measure. Instead, he said, the government should be taking advantage of low interest rates and a high number of unemployed construction workers to invest in infrastructure and education.

“What kind of spending would it take to keep us on the track that we’re on right now?” Schultz asked, noting a continued pattern of private sector job growth despite Republican resistance to a new jobs bill since the stimulus package of 2009.

“If we would just stop cutting, the growth would probably keep going,” Krugman answered. “If spending had grown as fast in this recovery as it has in past recoveries, we’d be spending something like $200 billion a year — state, local and federal — more, maybe $300 billion a year more. Maybe $300 billion a year more. We’d have about a million and a half more public sector workers than we do right now, because we’ve been laying them off at [an] unprecedented pace. So, I think $300 billion a year of additional spending would be appropriate and would mean, if we did it, that we would be pretty close to full employment at this point.”

Greg Sargent made the same point in his column this week as well: The Morning Plum: Happy Sequester Day! We’re still stuck in the wrong conversation.:

Meanwhile, the fact that sequestration is set to hit is a concrete reminder that we’re still stuck with the consequences of that misguided 2011 mindset. Indeed, the continuing argument over how to avert sequestration — whether to replace it with a mix of spending cuts and new revenues, or with just spending cuts — is itself a sign of the continuing power of elite consensus deficit-obsession. After all, the battle is still being fought on deficit/austerity turf, at a time of near-zero growth and mass unemployment, rather than over what government should be doing to boost the economy and alleviate widespread economic suffering. As Atrios has put it, we’re not debating whether to implement more austerity; we’re debating over how much austerity to implement.

It remains to be seen how damaging the sequester will be and how the politics of it will play out. But one can only hope that it will have one positive effect: Perhaps it will persuade people to rethink the relationship between federal spending and their own economic well being. As Brian Beutler has noted, Obama — through sustained and intense public persuasion — has already fixed the broken link in the public mind between the need for higher taxes and the value of sustaining popular government programs. Maybe the sequester will take this one step further and get folks to reconsider the relationship between government spending and economic recovery. Is there any other cure for the 2011 hangover that continues to dominate our policymaking?

Obama and Democrats appear to hope that some sort of eventual “grand bargain” will lock in a long-term consensus over the safety net and the deficit — over the size and nature of the welfare state and who should pay for it — and liberate policymakers to turn to the economy. One can hope. But for now, we remain trapped in the wrong conversation — one that is doing nothing to alleviate the suffering of untold numbers of Americans.

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