2020年12月1日 星期二

Biden’s bevy of deficit doves

What the incoming economic team has learned from the Obama years.
President-elect Joe Biden delivers a Thanksgiving address at The Queen theater in Wilmington, Del. on Nov. 25.Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times
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By Paul Krugman

Opinion Columnist

I don’t know why there are special names for groups of birds, although some of them — like an “exaltation of larks” — are lovely. Anyway, one term for a group of doves is a “bevy.” And I was encouraged by reports about the people President-elect Joe Biden plans to appoint to key economic positions: They are, as a group, a bevy of deficit doves.

Some background: From 2010 until around 2014 much of the political and media establishment was gripped by the idea that rising federal debt was the most important threat facing America, and that being a “deficit hawk” was the supreme political virtue. It wasn’t just politicians: As The Times’s new columnist Ezra Klein (hi Ezra!) put it, calls for deficit reduction somehow became an issue for which “the rules for reportorial neutrality don’t apply,” in which journalists were allowed to “cheer for a particular set of highly controversial policy solutions.”

Sad to say, President Barack Obama himself seemed to buy into the Beltway consensus, trying to strike a “grand bargain” to reduce future deficits by cutting social programs. He was only saved from his own instincts by the intransigence of Republicans, who refused to consider any tax hikes as part of the bargain.

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In reality, as I could have told you — as I and others did, in fact, tell you — the consensus among the Very Serious People (a term I stole from the blogger Duncan Bowen Black) about the evils of debt was wrongheaded and destructive. Government debt didn’t pose any significant economic threat, while spending cuts were materially holding back recovery from the 2007-9 recession.

Oh, and many of the most prominent deficit hawks were phonies. They didn’t really care about government debt, they only pretended to care as an excuse for trying to slash social programs. The proof came when President Donald Trump inflated the deficit with tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy — and many of those who pretended to believe that deficits were an existential threat under Obama cheered him on.

Still, some of us were worried about whether Biden would pick up where Obama left off — whether he would choose Very Serious People, still wedded to the old debt obsession, for his economic team. The good news is that he hasn’t.

Oh, you can pick over past writings by some of Biden’s choices and find places where they spoke up for deficit reduction — generally when they were, you know, working for Obama and dutifully repeating his administration’s official position. And I know that some Bernie Sanders supporters still want to relitigate the 2016 primary and are trying to portray Neera Tanden, a Clinton supporter Biden is nominating to head the Office of Management and Budget, as some kind of closet conservative.

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But the reality is that as far as I can tell, all of Biden’s economic picks are people who understand that federal debt isn’t currently a major policy concern, whereas it would be a disaster if we don’t spend enough either to get through the pandemic or on crucial long-run issues, especially climate change.

Now, how much they can act on this understanding is very much up in the air; specifically, a huge amount rides on the Georgia Senate runoffs. But Biden, it seems, has learned something from Obama’s missteps.

Quick Hits

The very mainstream former chief economist of the IMF explains why we shouldn’t worry much about debt.

A somewhat more intuitive (?) explanation.

A brief theory of Very Serious People.

Elizabeth Warren endorses Neera Tanden.

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