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End This Depression Now! Paperback – January 28, 2013
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"[Krugman] makes an urgent, even passionate case that our economic problems are, at root, fairly simple, and we have the knowledge and the tools to solve them.
Paul Krugman is stepping up to play the kind of role that John Maynard Keynes performed in the 1930s. "
A thoroughly persuasive polemic against premature fiscal austerity in the wake of a deep recession. "
[Krugman] makes an urgent, even passionate case that our economic problems are, at root, fairly simple, and we have the knowledge and the tools to solve them. "
An important contribution to the current study of economics and a reason for hope that effective solutions will be implemented again. "
Starred review. Krugman (Fuzzy Math), winner of the 2008 Nobel Prize in Economics, takes an edifying and often humorous journalistic approach to the current economic crisis in this accessible and timely study. Rather than provide a mere postmortem on the 2008 collapse (though relevant history lessons are provided), Krugman aims to plot a path out of this depression. Krugman has consistently called for more liberal economic policies, but his wit and bipartisanship ensure that this book will appeal to a broad swath of readers from the Left to the Right, from the 99% to the 1%. "
About the Author
Paul Krugman is the recipient of the 2008 Nobel Prize in Economics. He is a best-selling author, columnist, and blogger for the New York Times, and is a professor of economics and international affairs at Princeton University.
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But I docked this slender, smart book a star for its condescending "I'm right, you're dumb," tone, which of course is an occupational hazard for the good doctor. It seems true, though, that the austerity policies advocated by the other side defy comprehension: paring government services to the bone, paired with tax cuts that benefit mostly the wealthy, would by simple arithmetic wreck the economy (as they have caused persistent stagnation in Great Britain and elsewhere in other OECD countries as they crawl on their stomachs toward resumed economic growth). (Think about it: to say that austerity policies will usher in a new age of business confidence that will liberate factors and thus drive growth, as in "economic contraction will lead to economic expansion," does seem, on its face, as loopy as it turns out to be.) So I dock PK a star for the exuberance he demonstrates in expounding on his own correctness (and for repeatedly insisting he's more interested in talking about what to do to end the continued high unemployment rather than in rehashing history, when for most of 200 pp - of 239 main-text pp - what PK gives us is analytic history - very finely wrought, tightly argued analytic history).
So, substantively, this for me is a five-star tutorial, with two chapters on banking, finance, and inequality - "Bankers Gone Wild" and "The New Gilded Age" - alone worth the purchase price.
The focus on this book is achieving recovery rather than going into a lot of detail about how or why we got here.
What Paul Krugman does so well is get his points across in terms easily understood by laypersons.
This book provides an interesting history on deregulation dating back to the Carter era. Although it was airline deregulation that paved the way for deregulation in other industries.
Another thing I really like about this book is a detailed description of such terms as "liquidity trap", "shadow banking", and "Austerianism.'"
He also does a good job of refuting various theories and offering alternatives.
One recurring theme is a long history of forgetting past mistakes that render the same bad results, where some past solutions worked.
I learned a lot about the euro-dollar and the European fiscal troubles. Krugman makes the seemingly complex very simple.
The author isn't the first to write that American fiscal policy is driven by lenders (bankers). That, and the battle over lower unemployment as a priority.
At the end of the book Mr. Krugman lays out a strategy for a faster recovery.
If you only read one book on the subject, make it this one!
So the solution to our economic problem, Krugman insists, is not austerity (which might work for households) but the opposite. We need the government to spend money to create jobs so that people can buy other people's goods and services. We especially need some infrastructure building here at home instead of in the Middle East.
"Collectively," Krugman asserts, "the world's residents are trying to buy less stuff than they are capable of producing, to spend less than they earn. That's possible for an individual, but not for the world as a whole. And the result is the devastation all around us." (p. 30)
The other thing to understand about governments, especially huge governments like the US with a $15-trillion a year economy is that government intervention can smooth out a crisis. This is because the US will not run out of people to buy its debt since its tax base is so huge that the risk of default is miniscule. When the economy gets back on its feet tax revenues will increase and the debts will be paid. Well, not paid in full. That is unlikely to ever happen, since it makes little sense. To borrow to buy something you don't need like luxuries is not wise. (Wars are usually luxuries for governments.) But to borrow to help grow the economy is a fine investment. Sound companies borrow because borrowing allows them to take advantage of their knowhow in producing goods and services that people will buy allowing the company to make money. Borrowing to party big time to impress the neighbors or your girlfriend grows no wealth. (Wars are sometimes shock and awe parties for heads of state looking to stay in power.)
Aside from offering the solution to our economic woes in simple, straightforward terms, Krugman also does an outstanding job of explaining how we got into this mess in the first place. I've read several books and a number of articles explaining the mortgage crisis, the "too big to fail" bank welfare fraud and the derivatives hustles, but nowhere is this spelled out in as clear as fashion as Krugman does here. He is simply the best economist writing for an informed non-professional public at work today. This is not to mention that he is also a Nobel Prize winning economist.
As for wages being too high, Krugman writes:
"...today it's often argued that more labor market `flexibility'--a euphemism for wage cuts--is what we really need" (to cure high unemployment). "But while an individual worker can improve his chances of getting a job by accepting a lower wage, because that makes him more attractive compared to other workers, an across-the-board cut in wages leaves everyone in the same place, except for one thing: it reduces everyone's income, but the level of debt remains the same. So more flexibility in wages (and prices) would just make matters worse." (pp. 52-53)
I think the average person, even the fairly well educated average person, doesn't really understand how banks work and how they make money. I didn't until I was well into my fifties. Certainly the core of the Tea Party doesn't, although some of the supporters of financial institution deregulation do and that is precisely why they want deregulation. Here's how Krugman explains this in part:
First he notes that the Glass-Steagall act of 1933 primarily did two things. It "established the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) which guaranteed (and still guarantees) depositors against loss if their bank should happened to fail" (p. 59) Additionally, "Glass-Steagall limited the amount of risk banks could take. This was especially necessary given the establishment of deposit insurance, which could have created enormous `moral hazard.' That is, it could have created a situation in which bankers could raise lots of money, no questions asked--hey, it's all government-insured--then put that money into high-risk, high stakes investments, figuring that it was heads they win, tails the taxpayers lose."
Krugman then reminds us that this is exactly what happened during the savings and loan scandal of the Reagan administration. Likewise, the big investments banks knew during the later years of the George W. Bush administration that they were in fact too big to fail and the government in order to prevent a massive financial meltdown would have to bail them out if their Pandora's Box of risky derivatives (and other "financial instruments") went toxic. This knowledge gave them free rein to gamble like drunken sailors--well, that knowledge and the (how sweet it is!) deregulation of investment banking that took place primarily in the Reagan, Clinton and George W. Bush administrations. Toxic those gambles went and both the Bush and the Obama administrations found themselves with no choice but to bail the banks out lest the whole economy come tumbling down.
One of the results of deregulation has been the enormous increase in the wealth of the top one percent (yes, those people) and what has happened to the real income of most of the rest of us. Krugman has two charts on page 74 showing the growth in household income from 1947 to the present. While the rich have indeed gotten richer the average family has seen its income growth "slowed to a crawl."
But it's even worse than Krugman makes it appear. That's because the only reason middle income Americans have been able to tread water is because many of those families became two income families. In other words the head of household's real income has actually fallen.
Another factor in the actual decline in the average worker's buying power and the amazing increase in CEO compensation comes about, Krugman suggests, because worker's unions have lost a lot of their power. "It's surely relevant here to note the sharp decline in unionization during the 1980s, which removed one major player that might have protested huge paychecks for executives." (p. 82)
One more point. Krugman argues that the harsh austerity measures currently being acted out in Greece and other places in Europe are not only mistaken but based on a kind of "morality play" mentality. We all understand how it feels when our neighbors get away with something like buying houses they can't afford. We don't want the government to bail them out. They were fiscally irresponsible and should have to pay the piper. However even if that is true it doesn't help us by administering punishment in the form taking place in Greece, Ireland, Spain, and elsewhere. Our standard of living will suffer if we place our desire to punish others ahead of our doing what is necessary to grow the economy. It would help a lot if somehow some of the mortgage indebtedness were to be forgiven, is what Krugman suggests.
In short, there's a tremendous amount of economic wisdom in this book, so much so I would recommend it as a supplement to a college macroeconomics text. You'll find that a number of the sometimes difficult ideas in those texts are illuminated almost incidentally by Krugman as he explains how we got into this mess and how we can get out. I wish this were required reading for high school students and the members of the Congress of the United States.
--Dennis Littrell, author of "The World Is Not as We Think It Is"