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“On Economic Stupidity”: How Little Many People Who Would Be President Have Learned From The Past

Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign famously focused on “the economy, stupid.” But macroeconomic policy — what to do about recessions — has been largely absent from this year’s election discussion.

Yet economic risks have by no means been banished from the world. And you should be frightened by how little many of the people who would be president have learned from the past eight years.

If you’ve been following the financial news, you know that there’s a lot of market turmoil out there. It’s nothing like 2008, at least so far, but it’s worrisome.

Once again we have a substantial amount of troubled debt, this time not home mortgages but loans to energy companies, hit hard by plunging oil prices. Meanwhile, formerly trendy emerging economies like Brazil are suddenly doing very badly, and China is stumbling. And while the U.S. economy is doing better than almost anyone else’s, we’re definitely not immune to contagion.

Nobody really knows how bad it will be, but financial markets are flashing warnings. Bond markets, in particular, are behaving as if investors expect many years of extreme economic weakness. Long-term U.S. rates are near record lows, but that’s nothing compared with what’s happening overseas, where many interest rates have gone negative.

And super-low interest rates, which mainly reflect market forces, not policy, are creating problems for banks, whose profits depend on being able to lend money for substantially more than they pay on deposits. European banks are in the biggest trouble, but U.S. bank stocks have fallen a lot, too.

It looks, in other words, as if we’re still living in the economic era we entered in 2008 — an era of persistent weakness, in which deflation and depression, not inflation and deficits, are the key challenges. So how well do we think the various presidential wannabes would deal with those challenges?

Well, on the Republican side, the answer is basically, God help us. Economic views on that side of the aisle range from fairly crazy to utterly crazy.

Leading the charge of the utterly crazy is, you won’t be surprised to hear, Donald Trump, who has accused the Fed of being in the tank for Democrats. A few months ago he asserted that Janet Yellen, chairwoman of the Fed, hadn’t raised rates “because Obama told her not to.” Never mind the fact that inflation remains below the Fed’s target and that in the light of current events even the Fed’s small December rate hike now looks like a mistake, as a number of us warned it was.

Yet the truth is that Mr. Trump’s position isn’t that far from the Republican mainstream. After all, Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, not only berated Ben Bernanke, Ms. Yellen’s predecessor, for policies that allegedly risked inflation (which never materialized), but he also dabbled in conspiracy theorizing, accusing Mr. Bernanke of acting to “bail out fiscal policy.”

And even superficially sensible-sounding Republicans go off the deep end on macroeconomic policy. John Kasich’s signature initiative is a balanced-budget amendment that would cripple the economy in a recession, but he’s also a monetary hawk, arguing, bizarrely, that the Fed’s low-interest-rate policy is responsible for wage stagnation.

On the Democratic side, both contenders talk sensibly about macroeconomic policy, with Mr. Sanders rightly declaring that the recent rate hike was a bad move. But Mr. Sanders has also attacked the Federal Reserve in a way Mrs. Clinton has not — and that difference illustrates in miniature both the reasons for his appeal and the reasons to be very worried about his approach.

You see, Mr. Sanders argues that the financial industry has too much influence on the Fed, which is surely true. But his solution is more congressional oversight — and he was one of the few non-Republican senators to vote for a bill, sponsored by Rand Paul, that called for “audits” of Fed monetary policy decisions. (In case you’re wondering, the Fed is already audited regularly in the normal sense of the word.)

Now, the idea of making the Fed accountable sounds good. But Wall Street isn’t the only source of malign pressure on the Fed, and in the actually existing U.S. political situation, such a bill would essentially empower the cranks — the gold-standard-loving, hyperinflation-is-coming types who dominate the modern G.O.P., and have spent the past five or six years trying to bully monetary policy makers into ceasing and desisting from their efforts to prevent economic disaster. Given the economic risks we face, it’s a very good thing that Mr. Sanders’s support wasn’t enough to push the bill over the top.

But even without Mr. Paul’s bill, one shudders to think about how U.S. policy would respond to another downturn if any of the surviving Republican candidates make it to the Oval Office.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, February 12, 2016

February 13, 2016 Posted by | Economic Growth, Economic Policy, Federal Reserve, Recession | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

GOP: Playing “Dangerous Games” With The Debt Limit

The debt limit is supposed to make Congress think twice before passing tax cuts or spending increases that add to the national debt. Instead, lawmakers routinely support policies without paying for them — like the Bush-era tax cuts and two wars — and then posture and protest when their decisions require raising the debt limit.

So it will be once Congress returns from its spring recess. The debt limit — $14.3 trillion — will be hit as early as mid-May. If it is not raised in time, the government will have to use increasingly unorthodox tactics to meet its obligations, which would disrupt the financial markets and the economic recovery.

Default is theoretically possible, though public outrage over the mess would likely compel Congress to raise the debt limit before then. The best approach, the most sensible and mature, would be to pass a clean and timely increase.

However, nothing sensible or mature is on the horizon. Republicans have vowed to extract more heedless spending cuts in exchange for their votes to raise the debt limit. To that end, they seem likely to demand changes to the budget process, like a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, or spending caps.

Such reforms have a glib appeal — who can oppose something as prudent-sounding as balanced budgets? In fact, they are a dodge, because they cut spending broadly without lawmakers having to defend specific cuts. They are also often wired to block tax increases, without which deficit reduction efforts are not only unfair, but also will not succeed.

Take, for example, the balanced budget amendment to the Constitution that Senate Republicans recently endorsed. By rigidly requiring a balanced budget each year, it would deepen recessions by forcing tax increases or spending cuts in a weak economy.

Worse, the amendment would hold annual spending to 18 percent of the previous year’s gross domestic product, a formula that works out to about 16.7 percent in the proposal’s early years, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. That is a level last seen in 1956 — a time before Medicare, before the interstate highways, when many baby boomers were not yet born, never mind aging into retirement.

Sharply lower spending would, in turn, allow for big tax cuts. Those tax cuts would be virtually irreversible, since the amendment calls for a two-thirds vote of both houses to raise taxes.

Another bad idea is the spending cap proposed by two senators, Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee, and Claire McCaskill, Democrat of Missouri. It would cap spending at around 21 percent of G.D.P., compared with about 24 percent now — which would require deep cuts like those in the House Republican budget plan. With its emphasis on spending cuts, the cap also seems intended to reduce the deficit without tax increases.

In the successful deficit reduction efforts of 1990 and 1993, budget process reforms were helpful. The key, however, was to first enact credible deficit-reduction packages — with spending cuts and tax increases — and then impose rules, like pay-as-you-go, to prevent backsliding. Process reforms alone avoid the hard work. Still, they can exert powerful political pull.

The White House and Congressional Democrats must not allow themselves to be taken hostage again.

By: The New York Times, Editorial, April 22, 2011

April 23, 2011 Posted by | Congress, Conservatives, Constitution, Debt Ceiling, Deficits, Democrats, Economic Recovery, Economy, GOP, Government, Ideology, Medicare, Politics, Public, Republicans, Taxes | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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