The Church of the Austerians is Shocked by the Heresy of Krugman
by David Atkins
Paul Krugman went on Morning Joe and challenged the Grand Wisdom of the Austerians. Joe Scarborough went and had a conniption fit worthy of a medieval prelate being confronted with heliocentrism for the first time. In Scarborough's world, to believe that the deficit is anything less than a sword of Damocles is to be insane and unworthy of polite society. And yet, Krugman's understanding of the economy is widespread, basic Keynesianism that has been proven right time and time again.
How is it that Scarborough lives in such an ideological bubble that standard Keynesianism is so shocking? Greg Sargent explains:
That’s true, but it’s worth reflecting on why Scarborough believes Krugman’s views are so marginal and isolated. It gets back to what I’ve called the “Beltway Deficit Feedback Loop.” The relentless bipartisan focus on the deficit convinces voters to be worried about it, which in turn leads lawmakers to spend still more time talking about it and less time talking about the economy, a phenomenon that is self-reinforcing. This is exacerbated by some commentators and news orgs, who continue to treat the deficit scolds with a great deal of deference, while marginalizing the opinion that we should prioritize boosting the economy and job creation as a means of getting the country’s fiscal problems under control over time without savage spending cuts that will hurt a lot of people. Back in 2011 one study actually confirmed that newspapers were spending far more time talking about the deficit than the economy — at a time when the recovery was in serious peril.Krugman himself calls it incestuous amplification:
The Morning Joe crew’s reaction to Krugman perfectly captures this phenomenon. They treated him as a pariah. According to Scarborough, Mika Brzezinski compared Krugman’s “head in the sand” approach to that of climate deniers. You can almost picture Krugman sent on a lonely march through the Village square, head hanging in shame, with “DD” — Deficit Denier — printed on his back in big scarlet letters.
Of course, these folks only reacted to Krugman this way because they were apparently unaware of all the prominent voices who agree with him, thanks to the aforementioned Beltway Deficit Feedback Loop.
Back during the early days of the Iraq debacle, I learned that the military has a term for how highly dubious ideas become not just accepted, but viewed as certainties. “Incestuous amplification” happen when a closed group of people repeat the same things to each other – and when accepting the group’s preconceptions itself becomes a necessary ticket to being in the in-group. A fundamentally flawed notion – say, that the Germans can’t possibly attack though the Ardennes – becomes part of what everyone knows, where “everyone” means by definition only people who accept the flawed notion.Here at Hullabaloo we call it the Kool Kids Table, a pathway to power and social acceptance inaccessible to those who don't hold the "right" views.
We saw that in the run-up to Iraq, where perfectly obvious propositions – the case for invading is very weak, the occupation may well be a nightmare – weren’t so much rejected as ruled out of discussion altogether; if you even considered those possibilities, you weren’t a serious person, no matter what your credentials.
Do I believe that everyone in Joe Scarborough's sphere of influence knows that Keynesianism is accurate and that Krugman is right, but chooses to say otherwise because it pads their bank account? Of course not. It takes a conspiracy theorist and an idiot to believe that. Washington is corrupt, but it's not that corrupt.
No, most of these people believe what they say. I don't doubt that Scarborough's perplexed shock is genuine. Just like I believe that most of the conservative theologians who burned Giordano Bruno at the stake believed that our solar system was the only one of its kind. After all, anyone who believed otherwise wasn't taken seriously and didn't advance in the Church hierarchy. Everyone who was anyone knew better, and since Bruno refused to accept the conventional wisdom he had to be shunned and ultimately silenced. Bruno's ideas were unserious and dangerous. The man had his head in the sand and couldn't see what seemed obvious to everyone else.
Perhaps one day the Church of the Austerians will belatedly apologize to Keynes, Krugman, Stiglitz and all the other great economists whose names have been dragged through the mud. But not likely soon, and not during their lifetimes. In our own sordid lifetimes, Popes Simpson and Bowles will continue to bestow favors upon their cardinals, giving communion only to the Kool Kids who deserve it.
Sic transit gloria mundi.