Paul Krugman Is Part of the Sensible Bipartisan Center, Believing in a Broad Tax Base, Low Tax Rates, a Government That Limes the Playing Field But Does Not Pick Winners, Full Employment, Price Stability, and Progressive Taxation
Yet Martin Wolf calls him a "liberal columnist". What is going on here?
Lunch with the FT: Paul Krugman: [T]he Landmarc restaurant… on Columbus Circle…. Krugman, 59, most hated and most admired columnist in the US, rumpled and professorial, is sitting at a small table in the middle of the restaurant, working on his laptop…. "I don’t think they can save Greece but they can still save the rest if they’re willing to offer open-ended financing and macroeconomic expansion.” But this would mean persuading the Germans to change their philosophy of economic life. “Well, the prospect of hanging concentrates the mind; the prospect of a collapse of the euro might concentrate their minds.”
I change the subject to ask how he has coped with the shift from being predominently an academic economist to being the leading spokesman for the liberal cause….
We thought I’d be writing about the follies of dotcoms and stuff like that and then it turns out that it’s a much more awesome and ominous responsibility. It was nothing I ever planned. Really, the rough period was the first [George W] Bush term when it seemed like the whole world was mad…. I have to say, though, that the economic crisis has played into the things that I was worrying about 15 years ago. It’s been almost alarmingly easy to figure out what to say. But it’s a very strange thing: it’s not at all what I was imagining I was going to be doing with my life….
At this point we order: salade niçoise for Krugman; foie gras terrine for me; and a bottle of sparkling water. This is definitely not going to be up to the gourmet standards of some lunches with the FT….
I ask whether he is not being unfair to Ben Bernanke…. Krugman responds swiftly:
We don’t care about deflation because having a small minus, instead of a small plus, makes a huge difference to the world. We worry about deflation because we think it is a reason why one has a persistently depressed economy. While we may not have deflation, we have a persistently depressed economy…. I have actually very few complaints about monetary policy here through some point in 2009. I thought that Ben [Bernanke] responded aggressively and forcefully, which was the right thing to do. He stepped in with the original QE [quantitative easing] and stabilised the economy. The question is, what did he do as we started to look more and more like Japan? At that point the logic says you have to find a way to get some traction. Fiscal policy might be great. But if you’re not getting it you should be doing something on the Fed side and I think that logic becomes stronger and stronger as the years go by. And it’s sad to see that the Fed has largely washed its hands of responsibility for getting us out of the slump.
I hope that some day Ben Bernanke and Janet Yellen [vice-chair of the Fed] will think that I’ve done them a favour. There’s all this sniping from the hard money guys and somebody needs to say, ‘Actually, no, if we actually think about this realistically, you’re doing too little and not too much.’
So what, I wonder, would he do if he were put in charge? He says he would add maybe another $2tn to the Fed’s balance sheet, by purchasing a wider range of assets, including more private sector liabilities. “But mostly”, he continues, “you work on the expectations side….
We turn to his view of US politics. How does he explain what is going on? He responds….
One is money. There are think-tanks which don’t actually do a whole lot of thinking but which are lavishly financed…. You can have a lot of fun if you go back and look at what they were saying, and it’s hilarious, about Iceland as a role model, or the wonders of the Irish system. And then there is something about the appeal of this hard-money, gold-standard thing and it’s always had an appeal, but it seems even stronger now. I would have thought that the fact that people like me have been so much closer to [being] right on inflation and interest rates would move a substantial number of people into thinking that maybe their preconceptions were not right.
These things are always complicated but some of it is about money. Look, with even a few mild words of reproof, Obama has lost a huge funding source from Wall Street. And you have got to give the right credit: they play a long game. They’ve spent 40 and more years working on ‘government is bad’ or ‘taxes are bad’….
So how does Krugman cope with the hatred he attracts?
2002 to 2004 were by far the worst, and that was mostly not about economics, that was about the fact that I was pretty much alone in saying we’d been lied into [going to] war. But you do need to develop a thick skin. I’ve partly developed the attitude that if I don’t get a whole lot of hysterical pushback then I probably have wasted the space in the column. I’ve been in this a long time and it was really shocking in the beginning. But eventually you get acclimated. I think it scares a lot of people off. I think a lot of journalists, the first time they publish something even mildly critical of rightwing orthodoxy, they hit this firestorm and they never come back. They run scared ever after. But I’m long past that point…