Wednesday, January 30, 2013

"The folly of deficit fearmongers"

Dean Baker @ The Guardian:
The news that the UK, with negative growth in the fourth quarter of 2012, faces the prospect of a triple-dip recession, should be the final blow to the intellectual credibility of deficit hawks. You just can't get more wrong than this flat-earth bunch of economic policy-makers.

They're pretty much batting zero. They failed to foresee the collapse of housing bubbles in the US and Europe and its consequent downturn. They grossly underestimated its severity after it hit. And their policy prescription of austerity has been shown to be wrong everywhere that applied it: in the US, the eurozone and, especially, the UK.
By all rights, these folks should be laughed out of town. They should be retrained for a job more suited to their skill set – preferably, something that doesn't involve numbers, or people.

But that's not what is happening. The people who got it all wrong are still calling the shots in the UK, the IMF, the European Central Bank, and Washington. The idea that job security would have any relationship to performance is completely alien in the world of economic policy. With few exceptions, these people enjoy a level of job security that would make even the most powerful unions green with envy.

Of course, the cynical among us might note that the highest earners have done just fine. High unemployment rates undermine workers' bargaining power, which ensures that almost all gains from economic growth go to those at the top. In the US, the profit share of national income is near its post-second world war high.

Even if this upward redistribution was not a deliberate goal, it certainly affects the urgency with which policy-makers attend to depressed economies and high unemployment. If the stock markets were tumbling, as they were in 2008-09, there would likely be a lot more attention devoted to fixing the economy. (And if you think a plunging stock market has to mean that the economy is going down, you need to study more economics.)

Instead of focusing on glaring issues, like how the economy is down 9m jobs from its trend growth path, or how the typical worker's real wage has risen by just 2% over the last decade, the policy people in Washington are debating how to reduce the deficit. This makes about as much sense as debating the right color to paint the White House kitchen.