Paul Krugman: Monetarism Falls Short (Somewhat Wonkish)


The central debate over macroeconomic policy is, of course, between Keynesians and Austerians. And at this point the Keynesians have overwhelmingly won the debate everywhere except where it matters – the intellectual basis for austerity economics has collapsed, but actual austerity continues apace on both sides of the Atlantic.

There have, however, been a couple of side shows, with what I guess now constitutes mainstream Keynesianism – carried forth in public debate by Martin Wolf, Simon Wren-Lewis, Brad DeLong, Jonathan Portes, Paul DeGrauwe, and whatshisface, among others – subjected to non-austerian criticism on both flanks. On the left are the Modern Monetary Theory types, who assert exactly what the austerians like to claim, falsely, is the Keynesian position – that budget deficits never matter (except for their direct effect on aggregate demand). On the right are the market monetarists like Scott Sumner and David Beckworth, who insist that the Fed could solve the slump if it wanted to, and that fiscal policy is irrelevant.

Now, there won’t and can’t be any current-events test of MMT until we get out of the slump, because standard IS-LM and MMT are indistinguishable when you’re in a liquidity trap. But as Mike Konczal points out, we are in effect getting a test of the market monetarist view right now, with the Fed having adopted more expansionary policies even as fiscal policy tightens.

And the results aren’t looking good for the monetarists: despite the Fed’s fairly dramatic changes in both policy and policy announcements, austerity seems to be taking its toll. I would add that the UK experience provides a similar lesson. Mervyn King advocated fiscal consolidation – I’d say that he shares equal responsibility with Cameron/Osborne for Britain’s wrong turn — but more or less promised (pdf) that he would and could offset any adverse effects on growth with monetary policy. He didn’t and couldn’t.

I’m not claiming that there is nothing the central bank can do; but as I’ve tried to explain before, monetary policy can, for the most part, gain traction under current circumstances only by changing expectations about future actions (and changing them a lot). Meanwhile, fiscal policy has a direct, current effect on the economy, which easily trumps attempts to move the economy by changing the Fed’s messaging.

Sorry, guys, but as a practical matter the Fed – while it should be doing more – can’t make up for contractionary fiscal policy in the face of a depressed economy.

Monetarism Falls Short (Somewhat Wonkish) –

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