The Austerity Agenda
by Paul Krugman
May 31, 2012
“The boom, not the slump, is the right time for austerity.” So declared John Maynard Keynes 75 years ago, and he was right. Even if you have a long-run deficit problem — and who doesn’t? — slashing spending while the economy is deeply depressed is a self-defeating strategy, because it just deepens the depression.
So why is Britain doing exactly what it shouldn’t? Unlike the governments of, say, Spain or California, the British government can borrow freely, at historically low interest rates. So why is that government sharply reducing investment and eliminating hundreds of thousands of public-sector jobs, rather than waiting until the economy is stronger?
Over the past few days, I’ve posed that question to a number of supporters of the government of Prime Minister David Cameron, sometimes in private, sometimes on TV. And all these conversations followed the same arc: They began with a bad metaphor and ended with the revelation of ulterior motives.
The bad metaphor — which you’ve surely heard many times — equates the debt problems of a national economy with the debt problems of an individual family. A family that has run up too much debt, the story goes, must tighten its belt. So if Britain, as a whole, has run up too much debt — which it has, although it’s mostly private rather than public debt — shouldn’t it do the same? What’s wrong with this comparison?
The answer is that an economy is not like an indebted family. Our debt is mostly money we owe to each other; even more important, our income mostly comes from selling things to each other. Your spending is my income, and my spending is your income.
So what happens if everyone simultaneously slashes spending in an attempt to pay down debt? The answer is that everyone’s income falls — my income falls because you’re spending less, and your income falls because I’m spending less. And, as our incomes plunge, our debt problem gets worse, not better. Read more.
JPMorgan Chase Makes the Argument Again For Strong Financial Regulation
Dimon’s Déjà Vu Debacle
Sometimes it’s hard to explain why we need strong financial regulation — especially in an era saturated with pro-business, pro-market propaganda. So we should always be grateful when someone makes the case for regulation more compelling and easier to understand. And this week, that means offering a special shout-out to two men: Jamie Dimon and Mitt Romney.
I’ll come back shortly to the troubles at JPMorgan Chase, the bank Mr. Dimon runs. First, however, let me talk about Mr. Romney, whose remarks about those troubles were so off-point that they constitute a teachable moment.
Here’s what the presumptive Republican presidential nominee said about JPMorgan’s $2 billion loss (which may actually have been $3 billion, or $5 billion, or more, but who’s counting?): “This was a loss to shareholders and owners of JPMorgan and that’s the way America works. Some people experienced a loss in this case because of a bad decision. By the way, there was someone who made a gain.”
What’s wrong with this statement? Well, suppose that someone — say, Jimmy Stewart in the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” — runs a bank that takes in deposits and invests the money in various ways. And suppose that one of those investments is a risky bet on some complex financial instrument, with Mr. Potter, the evil plutocrat, on the other side. Read more.
Corporate Tax Myth
Warren Buffett: High Corporate Taxes Are An American 'Myth'
The Huffington Post by Bonnie Kavoussi 02/27/12
Corporations, like the rich, aren't paying their fair share in taxes, billionaire investor Warren Buffett told CNBC on Monday.
Even while enjoying record profits, corporations last year paid just 12.1 percent of those earnings in taxes, their lowest tax rate since 1972, according to the Congressional Budget Office. At least thirty of the country's most profitable companies had a negative tax rate between 2008 and 2010.
Buffett, for one, says it's time to take notice.
"It's a myth that American corporations are paying 35 percent or anything like it," Buffett said, referring to the top marginal corporate tax rate. "Corporate taxes are not strangling American competitiveness." Read more.