Here’s the back story: Paul Krugman has an article called “How the Case for Austerity Has Crumbled” in the current New York Review of Books. It’s a long article, but in it the Professor makes the point that austerity economics is more about morality than economics. It grows out of an emotional need to make somebody pay for our sins.
Michael Kinsley wrote what was supposed to be a rebuttal to Krugman that made Krugman’s case. Kinsley accuses Krugman of making a moral case against austerity, and then said austerity is good because it is payment for past sins and just like eating one’s spinach. See also Michael Kinsley Humiliates Himself In Terrible Defense Of Austerity and Kinsley loves austerity because it is â€œspinach.”
Since then there has been a high-level piling on, joined by people like Brad DeLong and Matt Yglesias, as well as some blog posts by Krugman himself. This includes a post today called Macroeconomic Machismo.
It was obvious during the runup to the Iraq war that what was going on in the minds of many hawks â€” and not just the neocons â€” was not so much a deep desire to drop lots of bombs and kill lots of people (although they were OK with that) as a deep desire to be seen as people who were willing to Do What Has to be Done. Men who have never risked, well, anything relished the chance to look in the mirror and see Winston Churchill looking back.
Actually, I suspect that even the torture thing had less to do with sadism than with the desire to look tough.
And the austerian impulse is pretty much the same thing, except that in this case the mild-mannered pundits want to look in the mirror and see Paul Volcker.
It occurs to me this theory could be extended to just about every stupid thing in U.S. history, from the firing on Fort Sumter to the McCarthy witch hunts to LBJ’s ordering troops into Vietnam. Feel free to discuss.