I'm glad Paul Krugman liked my General Theory of Austerity paper. But he wonders whether I might be missing something, in not explaining why Very Serious People (VSPs) in the US, or mediamacro in the UK, presume that deficit reduction is always a good thing. The constant call for deficit reduction seems to transcends party politics, and furthermore should be something that the wise always promote.
I do talk about the influence of the City/Wall Street and central banks, but perhaps there is something in addition which I talked about in a recent post: deficit bias. Keynes talked about 'practical men' who tended to absorb some of the wisdom of 'academic scribblers' of 'a few years back'. The wisdom in this case was deficit bias: the tendency that many economists discussed before the financial crisis for deficits and debt to tend to rise over time, across cycles. Perhaps VSPs and mediamacro have absorbed this particular area of academic analysis?
I think you can tell a similar story about academic scribbling of years past when it comes to the roles of monetary and fiscal policy. In the UK George Osborne argued explicitly that the economic consensus was now that monetary policy should deal with stabilising output and inflation, while fiscal policy makers should look after their own deficit. I have called this the consensus assignment. If he, or his advisors, absorbed this piece of conventional wisdom, so may VSPs and mediamacro.
So the headline academic scribbling was governments should control deficits, not the economy, and they are bad at it. Some of the theories put forward to explain deficit bias involve politicians knowingly deceiving voters by pretending tax cuts or spending designed to capture votes were 'affordable', and relying on general lack of understanding of the government finances to not be found out. That gives VSPs and the media more generally a clear role in providing a public service to help counteract the wickedness of politicians. VSPs might even think it was their public duty to constantly advocate deficit reduction to counter deficit bias.
As they say, a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. Those of us working on the front line of monetary and fiscal interaction, or who had studied economic history or looked at the lost decade in Japan, knew the conventional assignment broke down when interest rates hit their lower bound. We knew that a liquidity trap was absolutely not the time to worry about deficits, and if you did so you would cause tremendous damage. And we were right.
So if you believe this story, the lesson for VSPs and mediamacro is you really need to talk to economists in the front line more often.