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March 14, 2013

Why Does Anyone Listen to Paul Ryan?

Paul Krugman has questions for the fans of austerity in recessions:
Night of the Living Alesina, Continued: So, while I was dealing with real life yesterday ... Paul Ryan weighed in. ... Like almost everyone on his side (and many centrists), Ryan pretends that Keynesians are for fiscal stimulus always and everywhere — as opposed to the reality, that it’s about doing something in a liquidity trap, when monetary policy can’t cure mass unemployment. But what really struck me was his assertion that the notion that spending is expansionary and austerity contractionary has been debunked by “lots of studies”. Which studies, exactly?
I think it all comes back to Alesina and Ardagna — which, to repeat has been more thoroughly refuted by both academic criticism and real-world experience than any other popular doctrine I can think of. If Ryan’s faith is unshaken, that says everything about him and nothing about the evidence.
And let me ask a broader question: what, exactly, have Ryan and the economists he likes to cite gotten right these past, oh, five years? ...
Some of them were actually right about the impact of spending. They warned that spending cuts would hurt the economy and lower employment -- if they were military cuts -- not seeming to care that it contradicted their claims about austerity and spending in other areas. But why should they care if it works?

To answer the question, the mistake is to think their goal is to help the economy rather than use the recession as a blunt weapon to attain political goals. From that perspective, there have been gains. They've effectively blocked policies that go against their ideological beliefs (smaller government to allow lower taxes on the wealthy), they've seriously clouded the public debate on fiscal policy in a way that favors their long-run goals, and they've moved the center of the debate (the so-called Overton window) far, far to the right. Looking through an ideological filter, it's much easier to see what they have "gotten right these past, oh, five years".

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