Wednesday, March 7, 2012

"Incoherent in our hour of need..."

Paul Krugman trashes his profession's performance in context of the 2008 crisis:

"New Clothes!"
To say the obvious: we’re now in the fourth year of a truly nightmarish economic crisis. I like to think that I was more prepared than most for the possibility that such a thing might happen; developments in Asia in the late 1990s badly shook my faith in the widely accepted proposition that events like those of the 1930s could never happen again. But even pessimists like me, even those who realized that the age of bank runs and liquidity traps was not yet over, failed to realize how bad a crisis was waiting to happen – and how grossly inadequate the policy response would be when it did happen.

And the inadequacy of policy is something that should bother economists greatly – indeed, it should make them ashamed of their profession, which is certainly how I feel. For times of crisis are when economists are most needed. If they cannot get their advice accepted in the clinch – or, worse yet, if they have no useful advice to offer – the whole enterprise of economic scholarship has failed in its most essential duty.

And that is, of course, what has just happened...

The Afflictions of the Comfortable

Conservative commentator Bruce Bartlett at the NYT's Economix:

A curious phenomenon occurs during every economic crisis – the rich whine that they are the ones who are suffering most. While obviously one’s capacity to suffer under any circumstances is subjective, when we hear that the very well-to-do, under any reasonable definition of the term, seek pity, it comes across as callous and clueless.

That is especially so when the political agents of the rich are demanding still more tax cuts for them while doing their best to slash spending for programs that aid the poor.

I first noticed this woe-is-me attitude among the rich in 1974. Alan Greenspan, a very successful private economist and devotee of the radical libertarian novelist Ayn Rand, had just been named chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers by President Gerald Ford. One of his first tasks was to address a conference on social services sponsored by what was then the Department of Health, Education and Welfare.

The Republican administration was struggling to get control of the budget deficit, which it viewed as the prime cause of inflation, the nation’s No. 1 problem. Much of the emphasis was on cutting programs to aid the poor, which brought demonstrators to the event.

In an effort to show that everyone was suffering from inflation, Mr. Greenspan said, “If you really wanted to examine percentage-wise who was hurt the most on their income, it was Wall Street brokers.” ...

It’s hard to feel sorry for people who may have saved almost nothing during their prosperous years and made 50 percent more than the median family income of $13,000 in 1974. But the urge to find ways to pity the well-off is still alive and well.