FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Wrecking Society

by DEAN BAKER

There is an old story from the heyday of the Soviet Union. As part of their May Day celebrations they were parading their latest weapon systems down the street in front of the Kremlin. There was a long column of their newest tanks, followed by a row of tractors pulling missiles. Behind these weapons were four pick-up trucks carrying older men in business suits waving to the crowds.

Seeing this display, the Communist party boss turned to his defense secretary. He praised the tanks and missiles and then said that he didn’t understand the men in business suits. The defense secretary explained that these men were economists, and “their destructive capacity is incredible.”

People across the world now understand what the defense secretary meant. The amount of damage being inflicted on countries around the world by bad economic policy is astounding. As a result of unemployment or underemployment, millions of people are seeing their lives ruined. The current policies have led to trillions of dollars of lost output. From an economic standpoint this loss is every bit as devastating as if a building had been destroyed by tanks or bombs. And people have lost their lives, due to inadequate health care, food and shelter, or as a result of the depression associated with their grim economic fate.

If an enemy had inflicted this much damage on the United States, the countries of the European Union, or the countries elsewhere in the world that have been caught up in this downturn, millions of people would be lining up to enlist in the military, anxious to avenge this outrage. But, there is no external enemy to blame. The villains are the economists, still mostly men, in business suits.

The New York Times reported last month that formerly middle class workers in Spain are now picking through dumpsters looking for food. There are similar accounts from Greece. Both countries have unemployment rates hovering near 25 percent, with youth unemployment rates that are nearly twice as high.

And, the expectation is that things will only get worse. The latest projections from the IMF show the economies of both countries continuing to shrink through the rest of 2012 and for the whole of 2013. It is also important to remember that the IMF’s growth projections have consistently been overly optimistic.

There are similar stories across the eurozone and now also in the United Kingdom as that nation’s leaders have pursued economic policies that have thrown it back into recession. And of course the United States is also losing close to $1 trillion in output each year, with close to 23 million unemployed, underemployed or out of the workforce altogether because of poor job prospects.

The economists in policy positions are doing their best to convince the public that the economic catastrophe that they are living through is a natural disaster that is beyond human control. But that is what Vice President Biden would call “malarkey.” This is a disaster that is 100 percent human caused and is being perpetuated by bad policy.

The original collapse was the result of central bankers who were at best asleep at the wheel, or at worst complicit in the financial sectors’ wheeling and dealing, ignoring the risks that massive housing bubbles obviously posed to the economy. However the response to the downturn has made a bad situation far worse than necessary.

As the evidence keeps telling us, the basic story is about as simple as it gets. The housing bubbles were driving demand prior to the collapse both directly through building booms and indirectly from the consumption generated by bubble-generated housing equity. When the bubbles burst the construction booms went bust. And when the bubble generated housing equity vanished so did the consumption for which it provided a basis.

The basic economic problem in this context was finding a way to replace the lost demand. The right-wing politicians and their allied economists can repeat all the nonsense the like about promoting business confidence and tax breaks for job creators, but there is no remotely plausible story in which it would be possible to generate enough demand from investment to make up for the demand lost from the collapse of the bubbles.

This means that in the short-term the only way to make up the demand is from the government budget deficits. This is not even economic theory, it is simply accounting.

In the longer term, the shortfalls in demand will have to be made up from a rebalancing across countries. Countries with large trade deficits, like the United States, Greece and Spain will have to move toward more balanced trade. In the case of the United States this can only plausibly be done with a decline in the value of the dollar. In the case of the eurozone, there is no plausible alternative than to have the surplus countries, most importantly Germany, have more rapidly rising wages and prices in order to allow the deficit countries to regain competitiveness.

All of this is pretty straightforward, but the economists are instead steering the world toward more years of stagnation and rising unemployment and poverty. The human and social wreckage they have  caused puts our enemies to shame.

Dean Baker is the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). He is the author of Plunder and Blunder: The Rise and Fall of the Bubble Economy and False Profits: Recoverying From the Bubble Economy.

This essay originally appeared in Al Jazeera.

Dean Baker is a macroeconomist and co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC. He previously worked as a senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute and an assistant professor at Bucknell University.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

March 23, 2017
Chip Gibbons
Crusader-in-Chief: the Strange Rehabilitation of George W. Bush
Michael J. Sainato
Cybersecurity Firm That Attributed DNC Hacks to Russia May Have Fabricated Russia Hacking in Ukraine
Chuck Collins
Underwater Nation: As the Rich Thrive, the Rest of Us Sink
CJ Hopkins
The United States of Cognitive Dissonance
Howard Lisnoff
BDS, Women’s Rights, Human Rights and the Failings of Security States
Mike Whitney
Will Washington Risk WW3 to Block an Emerging EU-Russia Superstate
John Wight
Martin McGuinness: Man of War who Fought for Peace in Ireland
Linn Washington Jr.
Ryancare Wreckage
Eileen Appelbaum
What We Learned From Just Two Pages of Trump’s Tax Returns
Mark Weisbrot
Ecuador’s Elections: Why National Sovereignty Matters
Thomas Knapp
It’s Time to End America’s Longest War
Chris Zinda
Aggregate Journalism at Salon
David Welsh
Bay Area Rallies Against Trump’s Muslim Ban II
March 22, 2017
Paul Street
Russiagate and the Democratic Party are for Chumps
Russell Mokhiber
Single-Payer, the Progressive Caucus and the Cuban Revolution
Gavin Lewis
McCarthyite Anti-Semitism Smears and Racism at the Guardian/Observer
Kathy Kelly
Reality and the U.S.-Made Famine in Yemen
Kim C. Domenico
Ending Our Secret Alliance with Victimhood: Toward an Adult Politics
L. Ali Khan
Profiling Islamophobes
Calvin Priest
May Day: Seattle Educators Moving Closer to Strike
David Swanson
Jimmy Breslin on How to Impeach Trump
Dave Lindorff
There Won’t Be Another Jimmy Breslin
Jonathan Latham
The Meaning of Life
Robert Fisk
Martin McGuinness: From “Super-Terrorist” to Super Statesman
Steve Horn
Architect of Federal Fracking Loophole May Head Trump Environmental Council
Binoy Kampmark
Grief, Loss and Losing a Father
Jim Tull
Will the Poor Always Be With Us?
Jesse Jackson
Trump’s “March Massacre” Budget
Joe Emersberger
Rafael Correa and the Future of Ecuador: a Response to James McEnteer
March 21, 2017
Reshmi Dutt-Ballerstadt
On Being the “Right Kind of Brown”
Kenneth Surin
God, Guns, Gays, Gummint: the Career of Rep. Bad Bob Goodlatte
David Rosen
Popular Insurgencies: Reshaping the Political Landscape
Ryan LaMothe
The Totalitarian Strain in American Democracy
Eric Sommer
The House Intelligence Committee: Evidence Not Required
Mike Hastie
My Lai Massacre, 49 Years Later
James McEnteer
An Era Ends in Ecuador: Forward or Back?
Evan Jones
Beyond the Pale
Stansfield Smith
First Two Months in Power: Hitler vs. Trump
Dulce Morales
A Movement for ‘Sanctuary Campuses’ Takes Shape
Pepe Escobar
Could Great Wall of Iron become New Silk Roadblock?
Olivia Alperstein
Trump Could Start a Nuclear War, Right Now
David Macaray
Norwegians Are the Happiest People on Earth
March 20, 2017
Michael Schwalbe
Tears of Solidarity
Patrick Cockburn
Brexit, Nationalism and the Damage Done
Peter Stone Brown
Chuck Berry: the First Poet of Rock and Roll
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail