Paul Krugman: Fiscalization Watch


Fiscalization Watch, by Paul Krugman, in NY Times: A correspondent informs me that Wolfgang Schaeuble, the German finance minister, has just given a speech asserting that excessive public debt caused the 2008 crisis. In fact, I’m told, he said that

It’s actually undisputed among economists worldwide that one of the main causes – if not the main cause – of the turbulence – not just now, but already in 2008 – was excessive public debt everywhere in the world.

OK, we can prove that wrong immediately: I dispute it, Brad DeLong disputes it, Christy Romer disputes it, and I think we fall into the category of “economists worldwide”.

But more seriously, let’s look at the full list of countries that got into trouble because of high debts accumulated before the crisis, as opposed to those that have developed large deficits as a consequence of the crisis. Here’s the full list:

Greece

Spain and Ireland had low debts and budget surpluses on the eve of the crisis. The US financial crisis represented a collapse of confidence in private debt, not public debt. So Schaeuble is just making stuff up, inventing a crisis that didn’t happen rather than dealing with the crisis that did happen.

Unfortunately, he’s not alone. The fiscalization of the crisis story — the insistence, in the teeth of the evidence, that it was about excessive public borrowing — has become an article of faith on both sides of the Atlantic. And that faith has done and will do untold damage.

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