This Krugman piece is, I admit, quite snarky. He’s countering a specific critique of “Keynesian economics” made by a conservative who lacks a sound understanding of what the word means. Overgeneralizing, Krugman imputes this error to the conservative movement at large. This is terribly unfair. It’s also terribly satisfying at this particular moment. So I pass it along with the intention of begging the pardon of conservative friends tomorrow.
I’m not the first person to notice this, but whenever you read conservatives trying to critique what they think the other side believes, you find them assuming that their opponents must be mirror images of themselves. The right believes that less government spending is always good, regardless of circumstances, so it assumes that the other side must always favor more government spending. The right says that deficits are always evil (unless they’re caused by tax cuts), so they assume that the center-left must favor deficits in all conditions.
I personally get this a lot, of course. Not a day goes by without someone blithely asserting that I have never called for spending cuts on anything, and that I have never called for action against budget deficits. A few minutes searching this blog would disabuse them of these beliefs, but they don’t need to check — they know.
What seems beyond their intellectual range is the notion that other people might have subtler beliefs than their own. Keynesianism, in particular, is not about chanting “big government good”. It’s about viewing recessions through the lens of an economic model under which temporary increases in government spending can, under certain circumstances, help reduce unemployment. Indeed, not all recessions call for fiscal stimulus; it’s the special conditions of the liquidity trap that make it essential now — which is why the Bush deficits, run under non-liquidity trap conditions, say nothing at all about the desirability of deficits now.
I have no hope of actually getting through with this, of course. For to actually understand what people like me are saying, we’d have to get past crude slogans and simplistic nostrums. The problem is obvious.