Today’s non-news is that the right side of the Web has been jeering at something Paul Krugman said, except that he didn’t say it. But in their derision, many of them revealed how willfully stupid they are.
Yesterday someone tweeted of the earthquake something to the effect of “Krugman said it should have been bigger.” Witty. But then someone on a Google+ account posing as Krugman said, “People on twitter might be joking, but in all seriousness, we would see a bigger boost in spending and hence economic growth if the earthquake had done more damage.” And the hoots began.
The fellow who created the fake Krugman quote has come forward. Krugman says he doesn’t have a Google+ account. So there’s no question this is a fake quote. Dave Weigel repeats some of the responses to the fake quote and suggests people should have fact checked first.
But this brings us back to the Right’s willful refusal to understand Keyensian economics. Wingnuts think Keynes said just starting wars or just running up government budget deficits somehow stimulates the economy, which of course is absurd. Read through some of the comments at Hot Air, for example.
I infer from some of these comments that the new explanation for the end of the Great Depression was that the economy righted itself magically after the war ended. So we’ve gone from “it wasn’t the New Deal that ended the Great Depression; it was World War II,” to “it wasn’t the New Deal or World War II that ended the Great Depression, it was the end of the New Deal.” Or something. I started googling and found all kinds of “studies” from places like the von Mises institute claiming that government investment in building up the military during World War II had nothing whatsoever to do with stimulating economic growth and ending the Depression.
Yes, they are literally rewriting history, because the facts don’t fit their ideology.
The fact that breaking windows would make a society poorer (fewer windows) is precisely why nobody ever proposes stimulating the economy by deliberately smashing windows. But the way the dialogue works is that first a Keynesian observes that fiscal stimulus can increase growth in a depressed economy. Second, as an attempted reductio, a conservative says “if that was true, then you could increase growth by breaking a bunch of windows.” Third, the Keynesian accurately points out that you could, in fact, increase growth by breaking windows. Fourth, the conservative accuses Keynesians of wanting to break windows or believing that window-breaking increases wealth. But nobody ever said that! The point is that we have very good reasons to think smashing windows would be a bad idea–there’s more to life than full employment–and that’s why Keynesians generally want to boost employment by having people do something useful like renovate schools or repair bridges.
Putting it even more simply, if a bunch of windows get broken that’s a loss to the nation’s wealth. However, if new windows are ordered to replace them, this stimulates window manufacturing. We’d have to be talking about a lot of windows, of course.
But if the windows are merely boarded up, then it’s just a loss and doesn’t stimulate anything. So merely breaking windows does nothing to help the economy. It’s the subsequent investment of new windows that ought to help.
And suggesting that we break some windows to encourage the manufacturing of new windows is absurd when we’ve got plenty of things that are worn or broken already that could be fixed.
As one of Matt’s readers said, “Persistent, intentional misunderstandings of basic terminology are a pretty common feature of conservative argument.”