A Mediterranean diet, the New England Journal of Medicine reported Monday, can lengthen one’s lifespan. So inhabitants of southern Europe can look forward to long lives — of anxiety and privation.
Already mired in a depression comparable to that of the 1930s, Spain, Greece and Portugal are going to see things grow worse this year, according to an annual economic forecast released by the European Commission on Friday. Unemployment rates in both Spain and Greece — where a quarter of the populations are unemployed and the share of jobless young people exceeds 50 percent — will rise to 27 percent.
At least the leaders in power in 1930 had an excuse when the economy began to collapse. Then, there was genuine bewilderment among economists and governmental chieftains across the political spectrum about how to induce a recovery. From British Laborite Ramsay MacDonald to the German centrist Heinrich Bruning to American conservative Herbert Hoover, leaders cut spending to bring their budgets into balance.
These austerity policies proved an unmitigated disaster. By reducing government spending while business and consumer spending were tanking, these heads of government constricted all economic activity. In turn, unemployment continued to soar. Frustrated with the inability of mainstream political parties to stop the collapse, voters in some nations turned to extremes — most notably, of course, in Germany.
Unlike their predecessors, today’s leaders have models on how to revive depressed economies. The example of Franklin Roosevelt, whose public investments in jobs and defense turned the U.S. economy around, and the writings of John Maynard Keynes, who demonstrated that the solution to depression is boosting demand, are plain for all to see. Seeing isn’t believing, however, when ideology dims the eye.
Today, in the spirit of the Bourbon kings who reclaimed power in post-Napoleonic France, having learned nothing during their years in exile, many European leaders are repeating the mistakes that their predecessors made in the ’30s: demanding that governments reduce spending even as their private-sector economies limp along. Only this time around, the miracle of the euro has greatly the reduced the autonomy of many continental nations while giving their creditor, Germany, control over their destinies. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is imposing austerity budgets on other nations, even Spain, which had a string of balanced budgets before the 2008 collapse.
The economies of Mediterranean nations, the Merkelites complain, lag behind the productivity rates of their northern European neighbors. But boosting productivity — a goal that everyone embraces — requires more, not less, public investment in worker training, education, new industries and unemployment support. The relationship between austerity and heightened productivity, whose existence Merkel continually proclaims, is real enough — but in Europe’s current economy, the association is inverse.
As in the 1930s, despair about the economic options before them has driven many voters to bizarre extremes. A quarter of Italian voters cast ballots this week for the anti-austerity xenophobic party of a professional comedian. In Spain, a movement for Catalonian separatism is growing. More ominously, in Greece, an avowedly racist, fascist party involved in numerous instances of violence has won a bloc of seats in parliament. You might think Merkel would be cognizant of the links between economic hopelessness and the rise of fascism — but if she is, it hasn’t affected her austerity economics by so much as a pfennig.
The euro zone isn’t the only part of Europe where austerity is turning out to be a disaster. Britain is the one European nation that, since Prime Minister David Cameron’s conservatives came to power in 2010, has deliberately opted for punishing austerity to bring its budget into balance. As a result, the British economy has slowed to a crawl, and its budget remains in the red. Last week, Moody’s stripped Britain of its AAA credit rating. In anti-Keynesian theory, austerity economics are supposed to protect one’s triple-A rating, not endanger it. So much for anti-Keynesian theory.
The United States isn’t immune to Europe’s madness. The sequester slated to begin taking effect Friday is a particularly mindless form of an already stupid policy, poised to inflict a kind of blindfolded austerity at a time when unemployment remains high. Republican opponents of government spending, not to mention tea party activists, like to think of themselves as true-blue Americans while disparaging the Democrats as Euro-socialists. But it’s the Republicans who are embracing Europe’s failed economics while Democrats attempt to adhere to the American success story of the New Deal. Republicans might want to bone up on American history; it contains all kinds of valuable lessons.
By: Harold Meyerson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, February 26, 2013
“By Their Own Hands”: While Republicans Warn Against “Greece”, That Is Exactly Where Austerity Budgeting Will Lead The U.S.
Indebted America is in danger of turning into destitute Greece, or so congressional Republicans and conservative commentators have been warning us for years now. For many reasons, this is an absurd comparison – but it may not always be quite so ridiculous if Washington’s advocates of austerity get their way.
The Republicans actually want to impose Greek-style budget-slashing on the United States. And the federal budget sequestration scheduled to take effect next week could represent the first serious step here toward the kind of fiscal policies that have proved so ruinous not only in Greece — raising unemployment, destroying hope, and encouraging extremism — but across Europe.
Nearly every day, House Speaker John Boehner or Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell – or Senator Rand Paul or Rep. Paul Ryan, or almost any other prominent Republican – insists that the only way to improve the economic prospects of the American people is to impose drastic budget cuts on them. While these Republican leaders don’t love the sequester budget only because it cuts too deeply into defense programs, they are eager to impose similar cuts or worse on every domestic function, from health care and education to food safety and infrastructure.
Unwilling as they usually are to name specific cuts, the Republican plans that have emerged lately are indeed similar in scope and impact to those imposed by European central bankers on Greece, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, and other beleaguered states across the continent (and imposed by the British government on the United Kingdom itself).
Enacting the same fiscal policies in this country would, presumably, induce the same effects. Yet despite their enthusiasm for extreme austerity the Republican, Tea Party, and assorted media soothsayers almost never want to discuss what has happened in Europe as a result of those same policies. It is not always possible to ignore the unhappy reality of renewed recession, from England to Italy.
Just last weekend, the British were jolted by news that Moody’s had downgraded investments in their country’s sovereign debt from its traditional AAA status.
Why would the bond rating agency do something like that? Principally because the miserable budgeting of Tory Prime Minister David Cameron’s government has mired the United Kingdom in negative growth, with no prospect of reducing its debt, which keeps growing. So the scheme that was supposed to improve the fiscal outlook for the British has merely lowered their credit rating. That wasn’t supposed to happen — in fact, the austerity plan was designed to preserve Britain’s AAA rating — but it was inevitable as soon as Downing Street chose budget-balancing over growth.
The same downward trajectory can be marked wherever the leaders of dominant Germany have forced austerity plans onto indebted governments.
So damaging has this process become for all of Europe that the Germans finally began suffering the ironic consequences in the last quarter of 2012. Their export-led growth strategies cannot work when their neighbors, reduced to poverty, can no longer purchase German goods. If German exports pick up again this year, it will only happen because customers in the U.S. and China remain exempt from the effects of austerity.
Until now, the United States has escaped the fate of Europe, remaining the “sole bright spot” of steady growth in the global economy, because President Obama resisted the fiscal extremism of his Republican adversaries, and contrived to ward off recession with necessary spending. Now sequestration, with all of its dire social and economic effects, will provide a taste of what is to come under Republican austerity: a shrunken nation with a dim future.
By: Joe Conason, The National Memo, February 26, 2013
“Looking For Mister Goodpain”: The Doctrine That Has Dominated Economic Discourse Is Wrong On All Fronts
Three years ago, a terrible thing happened to economic policy, both here and in Europe. Although the worst of the financial crisis was over, economies on both sides of the Atlantic remained deeply depressed, with very high unemployment. Yet the Western world’s policy elite somehow decided en masse that unemployment was no longer a crucial concern, and that reducing budget deficits should be the overriding priority.
In recent columns, I’ve argued that worries about the deficit are, in fact, greatly exaggerated — and have documented the increasingly desperate efforts of the deficit scolds to keep fear alive. Today, however, I’d like to talk about a different but related kind of desperation: the frantic effort to find some example, somewhere, of austerity policies that succeeded. For the advocates of fiscal austerity — the austerians — made promises as well as threats: austerity, they claimed, would both avert crisis and lead to prosperity.
And let nobody accuse the austerians of lacking a sense of romance; in fact, they’ve spent years looking for Mr. Goodpain.
The search began with a passionate fling between the austerians and the Republic of Ireland, which turned to harsh spending cuts soon after its real estate bubble burst, and which for a while was held up as the ultimate exemplar of economic virtue. Ireland, said Jean-Claude Trichet of the European Central Bank, was the role model for all of Europe’s debtor nations. American conservatives went even further. For example, Alan Reynolds, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, declared that Ireland’s policies showed the way forward for the United States, too.
Mr. Trichet’s encomium was delivered in March 2010; at the time Ireland’s unemployment rate was 13.3 percent. Since then, every uptick in the Irish economy has been hailed as proof that the nation is recovering — but as of last month the unemployment rate was 14.6 percent, only slightly down from the peak it reached early last year.
After Ireland came Britain, where the Tory-led government — to the sound of hosannas from many pundits — turned to austerity in mid-2010, influenced in part by its belief that Irish policies were a smashing success. Unlike Ireland, Britain had no particular need to adopt austerity: like every other advanced country that issues debt in its own currency, it was and still is able to borrow at historically low interest rates. Nonetheless, the government of Prime Minister David Cameron insisted both that a harsh fiscal squeeze was necessary to appease creditors and that it would actually boost the economy by inspiring confidence.
What actually happened was an economic stall. Before the turn to austerity, Britain was recovering more or less in tandem with the United States. Since then, the U.S. economy has continued to grow, although more slowly than we’d like — but Britain’s economy has been dead in the water.
At this point, you might have expected austerity advocates to consider the possibility that there was something wrong with their analysis and policy prescriptions. But no. They went looking for new heroes and found them in the small Baltic nations, Latvia in particular, a nation that looms amazingly large in the austerian imagination.
At one level this is kind of funny: austerity policies have been applied all across Europe, yet the best example of success the austerians can come up with is a nation with fewer inhabitants than, say, Brooklyn. Still, the International Monetary Fund recently issued two new reports on the Latvian economy, and they really help put this story into perspective.
To be fair to the Latvians, they do have something to be proud of. After experiencing a Great-Depression-level slump, their economy has experienced two years of solid growth and falling unemployment. Despite that growth, however, they have only regained part of the lost ground in terms of either output or employment — and the unemployment rate is still 14 percent. If this is the austerians’ idea of an economic miracle, they truly are the children of a lesser god.
Oh, and if we’re going to invoke the experience of small nations as evidence about what economic policies work, let’s not forget the true economic miracle that is Iceland — a nation that was at ground zero of the financial crisis, but which, thanks to its embrace of unorthodox policies, has almost fully recovered.
So what do we learn from the rather pathetic search for austerity success stories? We learn that the doctrine that has dominated elite economic discourse for the past three years is wrong on all fronts. Not only have we been ruled by fear of nonexistent threats, we’ve been promised rewards that haven’t arrived and never will. It’s time to put the deficit obsession aside and get back to dealing with the real problem — namely, unacceptably high unemployment.
By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, January 31, 2013
“The Big Fail”: Too Many Republicans Responsible For Economic Failure Retain Power And Refuse To Learn From Experience
It’s that time again: the annual meeting of the American Economic Association and affiliates, a sort of medieval fair that serves as a marketplace for bodies (newly minted Ph.D.’s in search of jobs), books and ideas. And this year, as in past meetings, there is one theme dominating discussion: the ongoing economic crisis.
This isn’t how things were supposed to be. If you had polled the economists attending this meeting three years ago, most of them would surely have predicted that by now we’d be talking about how the great slump ended, not why it still continues.
So what went wrong? The answer, mainly, is the triumph of bad ideas.
It’s tempting to argue that the economic failures of recent years prove that economists don’t have the answers. But the truth is actually worse: in reality, standard economics offered good answers, but political leaders — and all too many economists — chose to forget or ignore what they should have known.
The story, at this point, is fairly straightforward. The financial crisis led, through several channels, to a sharp fall in private spending: residential investment plunged as the housing bubble burst; consumers began saving more as the illusory wealth created by the bubble vanished, while the mortgage debt remained. And this fall in private spending led, inevitably, to a global recession.
For an economy is not like a household. A family can decide to spend less and try to earn more. But in the economy as a whole, spending and earning go together: my spending is your income; your spending is my income. If everyone tries to slash spending at the same time, incomes will fall — and unemployment will soar.
So what can be done? A smaller financial shock, like the dot-com bust at the end of the 1990s, can be met by cutting interest rates. But the crisis of 2008 was far bigger, and even cutting rates all the way to zero wasn’t nearly enough.
At that point governments needed to step in, spending to support their economies while the private sector regained its balance. And to some extent that did happen: revenue dropped sharply in the slump, but spending actually rose as programs like unemployment insurance expanded and temporary economic stimulus went into effect. Budget deficits rose, but this was actually a good thing, probably the most important reason we didn’t have a full replay of the Great Depression.
But it all went wrong in 2010. The crisis in Greece was taken, wrongly, as a sign that all governments had better slash spending and deficits right away. Austerity became the order of the day, and supposed experts who should have known better cheered the process on, while the warnings of some (but not enough) economists that austerity would derail recovery were ignored. For example, the president of the European Central Bank confidently asserted that “the idea that austerity measures could trigger stagnation is incorrect.”
Well, someone was incorrect, all right.
Of the papers presented at this meeting, probably the biggest flash came from one by Olivier Blanchard and Daniel Leigh of the International Monetary Fund. Formally, the paper represents the views only of the authors; but Mr. Blanchard, the I.M.F.’s chief economist, isn’t an ordinary researcher, and the paper has been widely taken as a sign that the fund has had a major rethinking of economic policy.
For what the paper concludes is not just that austerity has a depressing effect on weak economies, but that the adverse effect is much stronger than previously believed. The premature turn to austerity, it turns out, was a terrible mistake.
I’ve seen some reporting describing the paper as an admission from the I.M.F. that it doesn’t know what it’s doing. That misses the point; the fund was actually less enthusiastic about austerity than other major players. To the extent that it says it was wrong, it’s also saying that everyone else (except those skeptical economists) was even more wrong. And it deserves credit for being willing to rethink its position in the light of evidence.
The really bad news is how few other players are doing the same. European leaders, having created Depression-level suffering in debtor countries without restoring financial confidence, still insist that the answer is even more pain. The current British government, which killed a promising recovery by turning to austerity, completely refuses to consider the possibility that it made a mistake.
And here in America, Republicans insist that they’ll use a confrontation over the debt ceiling — a deeply illegitimate action in itself — to demand spending cuts that would drive us back into recession.
The truth is that we’ve just experienced a colossal failure of economic policy — and far too many of those responsible for that failure both retain power and refuse to learn from experience.
By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, January 6, 2013
Mitt Romney’s hailed foreign policy speech combined magical thinking and mendacity, with promises or threats to maintain, restore, escalate or commence military involvement in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya and Iran, at minimum. Speaking at the Virginia Military Institute, Romney had to have his audience of cadets wondering how many wars he’d commit them to if elected.
Ironically, in a speech most passionate about making sure there’s no “daylight” between the U.S. and Israel, Romney repeatedly hailed VMI graduate George Marshall, the former secretary of state who famously opposed Harry Truman’s recognizing the state of Israel in 1948.
Romney used the tragic killing of Libyan Ambassador Christopher Stephens Sept. 11 to paint a picture of a region made more dangerous by Obama’s alleged weakness and fecklessness. “Americans are asking how this happened. I’ve come here today to offer a larger perspective on these tragic events,” he pompously proclaimed. But as he hailed “the massive protests in Benghazi” by thousands of Libyans outraged by Stevens’ killing, he seemed not to notice that it was exactly those forces Stevens, Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had worked to support and strengthen in their Libyan military and diplomatic policy.
Certainly the administration has to answer questions about and be held accountable for the security problems that led to Stevens’ killing, but Romney seemed not to understand that Stevens died trying to empower the Libyan people who supposedly inspired Romney. He spoke of Stevens as though he were some rogue hero rather than a career diplomat committed to implementing a policy directed by Obama. He accused the president of “not partnership but passivity” in dealing with freedom-loving citizens in Libya and elsewhere in the Middle East, and once again pulled out the “leading from behind” slur as though it was stated presidential policy rather than an offhand, anonymous quote in a New Yorker story from almost a year ago. He didn’t say that the president goes around apologizing for America, though, so that’s something.
But he did tell one big lie, insisting Obama hadn’t signed a single free trade agreement, when in fact he’s signed three, with South Korea, Panama and Colombia. Romney also committed himself to seeing a “peaceful, prosperous Palestine” living side by side in peace with Israel, even though he had earlier dismissed the possibility of a two-state solution at his famous Boca Raton fundraiser. “I look at the Palestinians not wanting to see peace anyway, for political purposes, committed to the destruction and elimination of Israel, and I say there’s just no way,” he told his wealthy donors.“[S]o what you do is, you say, you move things along the best way you can. You hope for some degree of stability, but you recognize that this is going to remain an unsolved problem … and we kick the ball down the field and hope that ultimately, somehow, something will happen and resolve it.”
CEO Mitt also seemed to think he can order other countries around, insisting he would get our European allies to spend more on defense, complaining that only three of 28 NATO nations spend what they are committed to on the military. Good luck with that. Mitt’s magical thinking was also in evidence as he promised to counter Iran’s military support for Syria’s Assad with … something. “It is essential that we develop influence with those forces in Syria that will one day lead a country that sits at the heart of the Middle East,” he insisted, sounding a little Palinesque.
Just before the speech, a Romney adviser told reporters that the former Massachusetts governor would consider sending combat troops to Libya – a reversal of Obama’s policy as well as his own earlier opposition to direct military involvement there. There were vague hints of more military intervention in Syria. Romney also accused Obama of abandoning Iranian dissidents who protested the 2009 election, but never said what he’d have done to support them. He expressed unhappiness with the exit of American combat troops from Iraq and seemed unsettled about their scheduled departure from Afghanistan, yet he was almost as vague about what he’d do differently as he is when it comes to which tax deductions he’ll eliminate.
Yet it’s possible Romney’s own advisers don’t know any more about his real plans than what he laid out in his speech. The New York Times revealed Monday that several of them say “they have engaged with him so little on issues of national security that they are uncertain what camp he would fall into, and are uncertain themselves about how he would govern.” They aren’t sure he’s even reading his foreign policy papers they write, and one told the Times:
Would he take the lead in bombing Iran if the mullahs were getting too close to a bomb, or just back up the Israelis? Would he push for peace with the Palestinians, or just live with the status quo? He’s left himself a lot of wiggle room.
Perhaps fittingly for a guy who has staffed his foreign policy team with Bush retreads, Romney got high praise from former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who tweeted: “Terrific, comprehensive speech by Gov. Romney at VMI. He knows America’s role in the world should be as a leader not as a spectator.”
By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, October 8, 2012