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Friday, May 11, 2012

Paul Krugman: Easy Useless Economics

The problems with some "authoritative-sounding figures" standing in the way of helping the unemployed appear to be deep and structural:

Easy Useless Economics, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: A few days ago, I read an authoritative-sounding paper in The American Economic Review, one of the leading journals in the field, arguing at length that the nation’s high unemployment rate had deep structural roots and wasn’t amenable to any quick solution. The author’s diagnosis was that the U.S. economy just wasn’t flexible enough to cope with rapid technological change. The paper was especially critical of programs like unemployment insurance, which it argued actually hurt workers because they reduced the incentive to adjust.
O.K., there’s something I didn’t tell you: The paper in question was published in June 1939. Just a few months later, World War II broke out, and the United States ... began a large military buildup, finally providing fiscal stimulus ... commensurate with the depth of the slump. And, in the two years after that article ... was published,... nonfarm employment rose 20 percent — the equivalent of creating 26 million jobs today.
So now we’re in another depression, not as bad as the last one, but bad enough. And, once again, authoritative-sounding figures insist that our problems are “structural,” that they can’t be fixed quickly. ...
So what’s with the obsessive push to declare our problems “structural” ... no matter how much contrary evidence is presented[?]
The answer, I’d suggest, lies in the way claims that our problems are deep and structural offer an excuse for not acting ... to alleviate the plight of the unemployed.
Of course, structuralistas say they are not making excuses..., that their real point is that we should focus not on quick fixes but on the long run...
John Maynard Keynes had these peoples’ number more than 80 years ago. “But this long run,” he wrote, “is a misleading guide to current affairs. In the long run we are all dead. Economists set themselves too easy, too useless a task if in tempestuous seasons they can only tell us that when the storm is long past the sea is flat again.”
I would only add that inventing reasons not to do anything about current unemployment isn’t just cruel and wasteful, it’s bad long-run policy, too. For there is growing evidence that the corrosive effects of high unemployment will cast a shadow over the economy for many years to come. ...
So all this talk about structural unemployment isn’t about facing up to our real problems; it’s about avoiding them, and taking the easy, useless way out. And it’s time for it to stop.

    Posted by on Friday, May 11, 2012 at 12:24 AM Permalink  Comments (120)


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