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Notes on falsifying Fiscalism

Have you been advocating that fiscal stimulus is unnecessary for the past four years? Do you want help in defending your position? Are you a die-hard monetarist? Are you annoyed at how right Paul Krugman has been? What follows is your best shot at disproving him. Tread with trepidation.

If there’s one rational expectation in economics, it’s that Paul Krugman is an inflationarydollar-debasingausterity-thumpingirresponsiblefiscalist imp that needs to be controlled. And over a decade ago in 1998, the good doctor wrote:

The way to make monetary policy effective, then, is for the central bank to credibly promise to be irresponsible – to make a persuasive case that it will permit inflation to occur, thereby producing the negative real interest rates the economy needs.

Back then, he had to end that phrase noting that “this sounds funny as well as perverse”. That’s a sea change from today, where this is taken as a foregone conclusion in wonkonomics. I see petitions for Larry Summers, Janet Yellen, and Christina Romer as great Fed chairs. That’s wonderful, and I’d be happy with any one of them (particularly Romer). But someone has to give me a detailed explanation why there isn’t a roaring movement – from Scott Sumner to Brad DeLong – calling on Barack Obama to nominate Paul Krugman for the most prestigious job in the country.

In January, Krugman politely declined a loud calling for his nomination as Treasury Secretary, preferring to remain an outside man. A latter-day Socratic gadfly, if you will. I agree, Paul Krugman in high political government would be a very bad thing. As I see it, such a position is best filled by a technocrat who can organize a willing coalition to frame the President’s economic policy into law. Paul Krugman is not that man.

Jack Lew is not involved with markets on an daily basis. We don’t much care how thick his briefcase might be. On the other hand, the Fed chair has the incredible burden of forming the most important expectations across international finance. We’ve all written many articles about how better monetary policy would slash deflationary expectations. We’ve talked about helicopter drops and QE infinity. We’ve talked about 4% inflation, and nominal targets.

Krugman is the intellectual father of irresponsibility, quite literally. If there is one man in this world who can convince markets that America will tolerate above-trend inflation, it is Paul Krugman. If there is one man in this world who can falsify Krugman’s own theory that we need more fiscal stimulus, it is Paul Krugman. Indeed, if Paul Krugman cannot credibly commit to be irresponsible, no one can.

Markets will smoke if he is shortlisted. If he is nominated, they will all but go on fire. So if you are interested in disproving Paul Krugman’s many calls for fiscal policy in a liquidity trap, you best champion for his nomination as Fed Chair.

(P.S. I did promise you “notes” plural. Your next best shot is to abdicate the scientific method, and choose to believe in hyperinflation, hard money, and short run superneutrality. This has been the option of choice for most.)

P.P.S Comon, is there a better “expectations channel” than krugman.blogs.nytimes.com?

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6 comments
  1. Yes, but the fox to watch over the chicken! Great idea, really.

  2. barchesterchronicler said:

    Krugman can certainly be trusted to be responsibly irresponsible.

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