FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Krugman’s Austerity Blinders

by JOSHUA SPERBER

The liberal case against austerity has recently gained momentum with the exposure of Harvard economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff’s calculation errors in their influential pro-austerity paper, “Growth in a Time of Debt.” Among many others, Paul Krugman has been lambasting the economists’ omission-based analysis that warns against exceeding an alleged 90 percent debt-to-GDP ratio. Krugman complains that economic justifications for austerity, no matter how dubious, have found receptive audiences among the powerful for decidedly non-economic factors; because it is so “strange” to cut spending – and thereby demand and ultimately production and employment – during a recession, Krugman can only speculate that austerity boosters are primarily driven by “underlying political and psychological reasons.”

Accordingly, Krugman rejects the notion that austerity generates growth via increasing investor confidence (the claim of the so-called Alesina-Ardagna paper), and he invokes the PIGS’ economic decline following severe spending cuts and tax increases to show that austerity indeed does not “work.”

Yet what is critical here is Krugman and other liberals’ understanding of precisely what “work” in fact means. Liberals are of course correct that European austerity, as well as the US version, has not generated an immediate economic expansion. But to get a clearer idea of the actual purpose of austerity, it is far more useful to listen not to liberal economists but to the politicians who actually decide to implement it. Greek European Commissioner Maria Damanaki recently noted, “‘The strategy of the European Commission over the past year and a half or two has been to reduce the labour costs in all European countries in order to improve the competitiveness of European companies over the rivals from Eastern Europe and Asia.'”

Similarly, in her recent keynote speech at the World Economic Forum, Angela Merkel was admirably frank in asserting that high unemployment is, according to the Guardian, the “price Europe had to pay to become more competitive.” Merkel’s statement that austerity is intended to “ensure the prosperity of our people” is an oxymoron only to those liberal economists who do not see capitalism as a class-based system. For, Krugman’s contention that recessions are merely “technical malfunctions” ignores what both politicians and capitalists have long asserted: recessions are “correctives” that reduce the cost of the one commodity that is more adjustable and often more expensive than any other: labor.

Austerity, via slashing social spending and expanding a surplus labor pool that is ever more desperate, achieves its aim via making labor cheap enough so that it can again be profitably exploited by capitalists. That is, our recession will come to an end, and the standard of living will be ever-lower, once business can again make a profit off of an ample number of workers, which of course is wage labor’s raison d’etre in capitalism in the first place. While the consequences of further impoverishing millions of people in order to more effectively profit off of them might engender political instability, this is not part of the economic equation. After all, political instability is what police states are for.

Austerity is neither psychological nor mysterious, unless you are a liberal economist who thinks that – notwithstanding some two centuries of wage labor exploitation – capitalism could “work” for everyone. While Krugman accuses austerity’s proponents of wearing ideological blinders, it is he and other liberals who are guilty of the charge, as they fervently mystify what is, to any dispassionate observer, plain as day. How else to explain the Nobel Prize winning economist’s failure to recognize austerity as embodying that most basic capitalist concept: an investment.

Joshua Sperber lives in Brooklyn and can be reached at jsperber4@yahoo.com

More articles by:

Joshua Sperber lives in New York and can be reached at jsperber4@gmail.com.

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

June 28, 2017
Jordon Kraemer
The Cultural Anxiety of the White Middle Class
Vijay Prashad
Modi and Trump: When the Titans of Hate Politics Meet
Jonathan Cook
Israel’s Efforts to Hide Palestinians From View No Longer Fools Young American Jews
Ron Jacobs
Gonna’ Have to Face It, You’re Addicted to War
Jim Lobe – Giulia McDonnell Nieto Del Rio
Is Trump Blundering Into the Next Middle East War?
Radical Washtenaw
David Ware, Killed By Police: a Vindication
John W. Whitehead
The Age of No Privacy: the Surveillance State Shifts into High Gear
Robert Mejia, Kay Beckermann and Curtis Sullivan
The Racial Politics of the Left’s Political Nostalgia
Tom H. Hastings
Courting Each Other
Winslow Myers
“A Decent Respect for the Opinions of Mankind”
Leonard Peltier
The Struggle is Never for Nothing
Jonathan Latham
Illegal GE Bacteria Detected in an Animal Feed Supplement
Deborah James
State of Play in the WTO: Toward the 11th Ministerial in Argentina
Binoy Kampmark
The European Commission, Google and Anti-Competition
Jesse Jackson
A Savage Health Care Bill
Jimmy Centeno
Cats and Meows in L.A
June 27, 2017
Jim Kavanagh
California Scheming: Democrats Betray Single-Payer Again
Jonathan Cook
Hersh’s New Syria Revelations Buried From View
Edward Hunt
Excessive and Avoidable Harm in Yemen
Howard Lisnoff
The Death of Democracy Both Here and Abroad and All Those Colorful Sneakers
Gary Leupp
Immanuel Kant on Electoral Interference
Kenneth Surin
Theresa May and the Tories are in Freefall
Slavoj Zizek
Get the Left
Robert Fisk
Saudi Arabia Wants to Reduce Qatar to a Vassal State
Ralph Nader
Driverless Cars: Hype, Hubris and Distractions
Rima Najjar
Palestinians Are Seeking Justice in Jerusalem – Not an Abusive Life-Long Mate
Norman Solomon
Is ‘Russiagate’ Collapsing as a Political Strategy?
Binoy Kampmark
In the Twitter Building: Tech Incubators and Altering Perceptions
Dean Baker
Uber’s Repudiation is the Moment for the U.S. to Finally Start Regulating the So-called Sharing Economy
Rob Seimetz
What I Saw From The Law
George Wuerthner
The Causes of Forest Fires: Climate vs. Logging
June 26, 2017
William Hawes – Jason Holland
Lies That Capitalists Tell Us
Chairman Brandon Sazue
Out of the Shadow of Custer: Zinke Proves He’s No “Champion” of Indian Country With his Grizzly Lies
Patrick Cockburn
Grenfell Tower: the Tragic Price of the Rolled-Back Stat
Joseph Mangano
Tritium: Toxic Tip of the Nuclear Iceberg
Ray McGovern
Hersh’s Big Scoop: Bad Intel Behind Trump’s Syria Attack
Roy Eidelson
Heart of Darkness: Observations on a Torture Notebook
Geoff Beckman
Why Democrats Lose: the Case of Jon Ossoff
Matthew Stevenson
Travels Around Trump’s America
David Macaray
Law Enforcement’s Dirty Little Secret
Colin Todhunter
Future Shock: Imagining India
Yoav Litvin
Animals at the Roger Waters Concert
Binoy Kampmark
Pride in San Francisco
Stansfield Smith
North Koreans in South Korea Face Imprisonment for Wanting to Return Home
Hamid Yazdan Panah
Remembering Native American Civil Rights Pioneer, Lehman Brightman
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail