by Max Brantley
Paul Krugman's column today is worth printing for distribution by all the Occupy protestors.
He's OK with the European financial deal, but focuses on the bigger picture — "the abject failure of an economic doctrine."
The doctrine in question amounts to the assertion that, in the aftermath of a financial crisis, banks must be bailed out but the general public must pay the price. So a crisis brought on by deregulation becomes a reason to move even further to the right; a time of mass unemployment, instead of spurring public efforts to create jobs, becomes an era of austerity, in which government spending and social programs are slashed.
This doctrine was sold both with claims that there was no alternative — that both bailouts and spending cuts were necessary to satisfy financial markets — and with claims that fiscal austerity would actually create jobs. The idea was that spending cuts would make consumers and businesses more confident. And this confidence would supposedly stimulate private spending, more than offsetting the depressing effects of government cutbacks.
We know how well that worked.
Now, however, the results are in, and the picture isn’t pretty. Greece has been pushed by its austerity measures into an ever-deepening slump — and that slump, not lack of effort on the part of the Greek government, was the reason a classified report to European leaders concluded last week that the existing program there was unworkable. Britain’s economy has stalled under the impact of austerity, and confidence from both businesses and consumers has slumped, not soared.
Maybe the most telling thing is what now passes for a success story. A few months ago various pundits began hailing the achievements of Latvia, which in the aftermath of a terrible recession, nonetheless, managed to reduce its budget deficit and convince markets that it was fiscally sound. That was, indeed, impressive, but it came at the cost of 16 percent unemployment and an economy that, while finally growing, is still 18 percent smaller than it was before the crisis.
For contrast, Krugman points to Iceland. It let its banks go broke, expanded the country's social safety net and put controls on capital. It has still suffered, but he writes that the rise in unemployment has been limited as has the suffering of the neediest. "... the social safety net has survived intact, as has the basic decency of its society."
Basic decency? That's not in the Tea/Republican Party playbook. Succor for millionaires and bankers is another matter.