Friday, December 2, 2011

More "moral" economics via Chait

While we're on the subject...

One of the really insidious things about the ant-and-the-grasshopper view of the European crisis is the way that the conflicting facts have been revised and the revisions have gone directly into the conventional wisdom. Jonathan Chait has a recent example:
David Brooks today devotes his column on Europe to the familiar conservative morality tale, in which the European countries in trouble are paying the price for their slothful, profligate ways:

Over the past few decades, several European nations, like Germany and the Netherlands, have played by the rules and practiced good governance. They have lived within their means, undertaken painful reforms, enhanced their competitiveness and reinforced good values. Now they are being brutally browbeaten for not wanting to bail out nations like Greece, Italy and Spain, which did not do these things, which instead borrowed huge amounts of money that they are choosing not to repay.

Does anybody else on the Times op-ed page care to rebut this? Perhaps somebody who has glanced at the relevant data? Yes, you there, the bearded man with the Nobel Prize in economics:

How did things go so wrong? The answer you hear all the time is that the euro crisis was caused by fiscal irresponsibility. Turn on your TV and you’re very likely to find some pundit declaring that if America doesn’t slash spending we’ll end up like Greece. Greeeeeece!

But the truth is nearly the opposite. …

Only Greece ran large budget deficits during the good years; Spain actually had a surplus on the eve of the crisis.

On his blog, Krugman also has a chart showing that Italy and Spain both had shrinking debts as a percentage of GDP in the dozen years before the crisis.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this is the fact that Krugman and numerous other economists have been trying to correct these mistakes for a long time, often in prominent forums, and yet even normally reliable sources like Marketplace nonchalantly refer to the profligacy of Spain and Ireland alnog with that of Greece as established facts.

It's funny. In a debate that focuses so much on virtue and personal responsibility, so little attention is given to dishonest arguments and professional negligence.

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