Gavin Kostick, Paul Krugman, and Jean Claude Trichet

Commenter Gavin Kostick has done impressive work on our behalf following up with Paul Krugman and Jean Claude Trichet on the austerity debate.   The fruits of his efforts are contained on the Paul Krugman: When Austerity Fails thread, but many readers will probably have missed them on this fast moving blog.

The reply from the ECB and links provided by Paul Krugman are reproduced after the break.   Thanks Gavin.  (I also take back my dig from yesterday about the ECB’s poor communications.)

Unpleasant Stimulus Arithmetic

One by-product of Paul Krugman’s latest intervention on Ireland is that it will provide further ammunition for the many people who believe the government should abandon fiscal austerity and provide a stimulus package of new spending to boost the economy. Stimulus advocates believe that budget cuts are self-defeating and that, by contrast, a stimulus package will pay for itself and actually improve our budgetary situation.

I know that the majority of Irish economists don’t agree with this idea but perhaps we’re not doing a very good job at communicating why, so here’s a brief explanation.

Krugman and the ESRI

Paul Krugman criticises the ESRI’s Recovery Scenarios paper:

What the careless reader might miss, however, is the fact that the policy conclusions are not, in fact, derived from the analysis — they come out of thin air. The authors simply assert that more austerity now would lead to a lower risk premium and hence higher growth, based on no evidence I can see.

This criticism appears to relate to the paragraph on page 41 of the report starting with “Recent experience ..”

Two aspects of this criticism strike me as unfair.

First, the assertion that Krugman refers to appears to be the following concluding sentence:

It also raises the question as to whether a more rapid fiscal adjustment than currently planned would have a more beneficial outcome for the economy. 

This seems to be pretty far from an assertion. Rather it flags this idea as something to consider. Krugman seems to be jumping on the ESRI for what it is little more than a speculative remark.

Second, in relation to the “based on no evidence that I can see” comment, I’d note that the relevant paragraph contains the following sentence:

This means that action to reduce borrowing, which would otherwise still be deflationary, could actually increase domestic activity if it produced a sufficient reduction in the risk premium (Alesina, 2010).

Now I’m guessing that Krugman has no time for the analysis in Alesina, 2010 (and he may be correct in this assessment) but it’s still worth noting that the ESRI did cite evidence from a Harvard economist when making the supposed assertion.

What seems to be happening here is that the ESRI-bashing is just a small element in Krugman’s greater campaign of opposing austerity in the US and Germany (with which I’m sympathetic.)  However, it’s worth recalling that last year, Krugman noted about Ireland that “there isn’t much disagreement about the need for fiscal austerity. As far as responding to the recession goes, Ireland appears to be really, truly without options” and referred to an “Irish-type fiscal straitjacket.”

I’d be surprised if Krugman’s assessment of the bond market’s attitude to Ireland has changed much since then: The spread over bunds of the Irish ten-year bond was 282 basis points yesterday versus 293 the day Krugman’s Erin go Broke column was published.

So while kicking around a little research institute his readers have never heard of may seem to provide a nice example-de-jour of crazy people advocating Herbert Hoover economics, in truth it’s likely that even Paul Krugman doesn’t really believe Ireland is in a position to abandon austerity.

New Yorker Profile of Paul Krugman

The profile article is here.