It’s Hard Out Here For An Austerity Pimp


David Frum published an interesting letter from one of his readers the other day on the Reinhardt-Rogoff brouhaha. It provides a fascinating rundown of all the cracked economics that have dominated the debate for the past few years:

The Reinhart- Rogoff paper that has been ruthlessly critiqued in the past few days had long been cited as an example of how to make a “not crazy” argument about deficit reduction.

Their arguments made intuitive sense: it was not absurd to think that high debt could slow down growth, especially when you looked at countries like Japan and Italy. But now that Reinhart & Rogoff’s standing in the fiscal debate is in doubt, we may soon discover that are very few “not crazy” deficit reduction advocates left to find.

Reinhart & Rogoff were not gripped by the pseudo-science-economics that has ensnared so many on the right. If we remove Reinhart & Rogoff from the scene, what’s left does not inspire a lot of confidence. Since 2008 we have had economists, pundits, and politicians argue:

1. That America needs to go back to gold.

2. That cutting spending stimulates growth, despite the evidence to the contrary.

3. That tax cuts must always create growth as a law of nature. (The Congressional Research Service disagrees.)

4. But that the Payroll Tax should not be cut because a tax cut that benefits the working class is just a “sugar high.”

5. That inflation is just around the corner, even though it is not.

These are just arguments about how to fix our present crisis. There is also the conservative economic revisionism which claims that FDR made the Great Depression worse (that debate summarized in chart form here) and that all of American economics has been an unmitigated disaster since advent of the Federal Reserve. (Read David Stockman if you want a rambling rant on that topic.)

The longer you look at it, the more you can’t shake the feeling that some economists treat their job like a never-ending #slatepitch with arguments like “income inequality is justified because it gives us better soda cans” (This is the thesis of Edward Conard’s book.)

That’s all true and it presents quite an indictment of the austerity crowd, in my opinion. But lest you think this huge pile of evidence has shaken this person’s belief that deficit reduction is the right policy, think again:

Reinhart & Rogoff’s entry into the debate was substantial (even Paul Krugman still approves of their book, This Time is Different). Since they will now have to exit the debate, the quality of who is left is frankly depressing. Sure there are sane cases for deficit reduction to be made, and there are bloggers and writers who will make them, but I bet they won’t be dominating the debate going forward.

Hey, just because virtually everyone who has been arguing the case for deficit reduction for years has been shown to be a crank, a charlatan or shockingly bad at arithmetic is no reason to question your beliefs. Of course austerity is sane!  It just must be!  Clearly the problem isn’t that austerity is the wrong prescription, it’s that now only bloggers will be making the case and they won’t dominate the debate like the long, long line of discredited analysts and economists who history has proven to be asses. It’s tough times for austerians.