Maybe a Bit Too Far

by Brien Jackson

Daniel Drezner makes the fairly ridiculous assertion that “Keynsians” are becoming the new neocons, and that Krugman, specifically, is reminding him of Richard Perle. I suppose I should point out that this is basically just another invocation of “the Shrill One” and doesn’t actually contain any sort of substantive rebuttal to Krugman, but in the spirit of comity and seriousness I’ll give this a bit more thorough unpacking.

First, it’s worth keeping in mind that the underlying circumstances Drezner is comparing are about as far apart from one another as night and day. In retrospect, one of the most appalling things about the neocons in the run-up to the Iraq War was the way they shamelessly exaggerated the threat Iraq posed. I mean, senior administration officials right up to the President actually said, repeatedly, that there was a risk Iraqi Predator drones might disperse a chemical agent over a U.S. city sometime this decade and warned, “the smoking gun may be a mushroom cloud.” It’s sort of hard to remember that now, mostly because subsequent discoveries have demonstrated just how ridiculous the idea was, and I suspect most of us just want to forget that we actually fell for the bullshit.

On the other hand, I very much doubt that anyone really thinks we do not, in fact, have a dire economic situation on our hands. I mean, we lost 600,000 jobs last month, unemployment is at a 16 year high, and is likely to crack double digits by mid-year. It’s right in front o our faces, in other words. Indeed, even the biggest right-wing critics of the stimulus bill aren’t denying the existence of a problem so much as they’re trying to blame it on Democrats.

Secondly, I suppose it’s just me, but if anything I think Drezner is painting with an overly large brush by invoking the specter of “Keynsians,” in the sense that he seems to be implying that Krugman, and others, have a knee-jerk, ideological, favor for massive fiscal expansion in the face of economic downturns. But that’s not really true, of course, and Krugman has written before that, usually, the best cure for an economic downturn is monetary policy. But every recession is not created equal, and in this unique situation that’s not an option. It’s a strategy of “fiscal policy of last resort” so to speak.

Finally, I don’t really think Krugman is wrong to treat stimulus opponents so dismissively, and Drezner doesn’t really outline why he should. To wit, neither the Republican opposition nor the centrist trimmers are actually providing any sort of rationale for their positions and, when they do, the nonsense borders on comical. How, exactly, are you supposed to substantively engage with a party whose chairman is on national television arguing that a government job, or a job contracting for the government, isn’t really a job and that the problem with the stimulus bill is that it just “makes work?” I’m not saying that bona fide detractors shouldn’t be engaged with in a serious fashion, but for the most part there aren’t bona fide detractors in this sense. You have, on the one hand, a bunch of wingnuts (yes wingnuts) running around saying ridiculously absurd things on a daily basis and, on the other hand, a group of “centrists” looking for a chance to preen for the Broders of the world. That’s not a recipe for any sort of substantive debate, and treating either of those as intellectually serious positions would be insulting.

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