Krugman on the invisible bond vigilantes
Paul Krugman is complaining of deficit hysteria over on his blog again. Where are the bond vigilantes? he wonders. Since we’re still able to sell debt so cheaply, why is anyone worried about more deficit spending?
As always, there are numerous holes in his argument that he chooses to ignore.
1. The chart he uses is the most charitable view of America’s public debt burden. It’s simply public debt outstanding. This ignores money the government owes itself to fund future benefits. More importantly, it ignores unfunded liabilities. Paul puts debt to GDP at 60%. In reality, public debt is closer to 500%. And that’s using 2005 figures.
2. Krugman ignores private debt (household, business, financial) which still stands at a suffocating 300% of GDP according to the latest flow of funds report. If households are drowning in private debt, they can’t exactly afford tax increases to pay off more public debt. This is a key argument against those who say that we can borrow more because we have in the past, specifically during the ’40s when we were fighting WW2. Yes, public debt was much higher then. But private debt had been virtually wiped out by the Depression. So the total public + private debt burden was far lower than it is today.
(Click chart to enlarge in new window)
Again, the chart above excludes unfunded liabilities. Including them would put the total debt burden closer to 800% of GDP. Truly an astonishing figure.
What bothers me most is how Krugman caricatures the fiscally conservative as Scrooges unconcerned with high unemployment. To the contrary, we see that the root of the employment problem facing the country is debt itself. That’s why we find ourselves in this financial crisis.
Digging ourselves a deeper hole means worse unemployment down the road.
But PK needn’t take my word for it. He made the argument himself quite cogently back in 2003.