Zombie Economics: Night of the Living Austerians

Posted by AzBlueMeanie:

ZombielandThe Tea-Publican Party and its echo chamber, the Beltway media, are still in thrall with European-style austerity, which has been disproven and discredited as much as faith based supply-side "trickle-down" economics has been entirely disproved and discredited on this side of the pond. Yet they continue to cling to their faith in these failed economic theories. It's like we are trapped in a bad movie – "Zombie Economics: Night of the Living Austerians."

Paul Krugman explains in two recent blog posts. Night of the Living Alesina:

Ah, remember the good old days of expansionary austerity? On both sides of the Atlantic, austerians seized on academic work by Alberto Alesina and Silvia Ardagna claiming that fiscal consolidation, if focused on spending cuts, would if anything lead to economic expansion. It wasn’t because the paper was especially compelling — even a quick look suggested that the methodology for identifying austerity was seriously flawed. But A-A told people what they wanted to hear, and they went with it.

Since then we’ve had what has to be one of the most decisive combinations of scholarly critique and real-world tests of an economic doctrine ever — and expansionary austerity has failed with flying colors. The IMF went about identifying austerity through an examination of actual policy, and A-A’s results were reversed. Critics showed that all of the alleged examples of expansion through austerity involved factors like currency depreciation or sharp falls in interest rates that don’t apply now. Osbornian policies in the UK led to stagnation; and in the euro area, well …

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So you might have expected austerians to change their minds, or at least to come up with other justifications. But no. Both David Cameron and Paul Ryan are still preaching that old expansionary austerity religion, confidence fairy and all.

This is, by the way, a fairly big deal for the Ryan budget, which actually produces a lot of front-loaded austerity, in part because it keeps the tax hikes that finance Obamacare while cancelling the Medicaid expansion and exchange subsidies. The result would be a lot of fiscal drag in 2014 and 2015 — years when the U.S. is very likely still to be in a liquidity trap, so multipliers will be large. This particular “Path to Prosperity” is, in the short to medium term, very much a path to continued depression.

And in Night of the Living Alesina, Continued:

Paul Ryan has weighed in. Now, Ryan’s status among the Very Serious People has taken a Very Steep Plunge; at this point Dana Milbank sounds a lot like, well, me back in 2010. (But that won’t stop the VSPs from considering me unsound; I was prematurely anti-flimflam, you know.) Still, it’s worth spending a few seconds parsing his current position.

Like almost everyone on his side (and many centrists), Ryan pretends that Keynesians are for fiscal stimulus always and everywhere — as opposed to the reality, that it’s about doing something in a liquidity trap, when monetary policy can’t cure mass unemployment. But what really struck me was his assertion that the notion that spending is expansionary and austerity contractionary has been debunked by “lots of studies”. Which studies, exactly?

I think it all comes back to Alesina and Ardagna — which, to repeat has been more thoroughly refuted by both academic criticism and real-world experience than any other popular doctrine I can think of. If Ryan’s faith is unshaken, that says everything about him and nothing about the evidence.

And let me ask a broader question: what, exactly, have Ryan and the economists he likes to cite gotten right these past, oh, five years? How has the Heritage Foundation prediction of soaring interest rates from four years ago panned out? How has Ryan’s own warnings from two years ago that Bernanke’s debasing of the dollar would translate into sharply rising inflation panned out? How has Alesina’s prediction that European austerity would be consistent with a strong recovery panned out? [Hint: Europe is in a recession with high unemployment]

OK, I understand that in GOP internal politics we seem to have a principle of survival of the wrongest, in which the less real-world outcomes corroborate the dogma, the more fiercely that dogma is held. But Ryan’s complete lack of self-reflection is nonetheless something wondrous to behold.

We have got to break this stanglehold of GOP economic dogma, or it will be the death of us all.

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