Krugman: The unwisdom of elites

Written By: - Date published: 12:32 pm, May 15th, 2011 - 19 comments
Categories: capitalism, class war, International, tax - Tags: , ,

Paul Krugman tells it like it is:

The Unwisdom of Elites

The past three years have been a disaster for most Western economies. The United States has mass long-term unemployment for the first time since the 1930s. Meanwhile, Europe’s single currency is coming apart at the seams. How did it all go so wrong?

Well, what I’ve been hearing with growing frequency from members of the policy elite — self-appointed wise men, officials, and pundits in good standing — is the claim that it’s mostly the public’s fault. The idea is that we got into this mess because voters wanted something for nothing, and weak-minded politicians catered to the electorate’s foolishness.

In NZ this is the nonsense we hear all the time about the policies of the last Labour government. Working for Families. Interest free student loans. You know, policies that help ordinary people instead of just the top 5%. National and their media enablers like to call these “election bribes”, while studiously avoiding the biggest election bribe of them all, National’s unaffordable tax cuts.

So this seems like a good time to point out that this blame-the-public view isn’t just self-serving, it’s dead wrong.

The fact is that what we’re experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. The policies that got us into this mess weren’t responses to public demand. They were, with few exceptions, policies championed by small groups of influential people — in many cases, the same people now lecturing the rest of us on the need to get serious. And by trying to shift the blame to the general populace, elites are ducking some much-needed reflection on their own catastrophic mistakes.

Let me focus mainly on what happened in the United States, then say a few words about Europe.

These days Americans get constant lectures about the need to reduce the budget deficit. That focus in itself represents distorted priorities, since our immediate concern should be job creation. But suppose we restrict ourselves to talking about the deficit, and ask: What happened to the budget surplus the federal government had in 2000?

The answer is, three main things. First, there were the Bush tax cuts, which added roughly $2 trillion to the national debt over the last decade. Second, there were the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which added an additional $1.1 trillion or so. And third was the Great Recession, which led both to a collapse in revenue and to a sharp rise in spending on unemployment insurance and other safety-net programs.

We don’t have big expensive wars to pay for, but we’re in line with the unaffordable tax cuts and the damage from the recession.

So who was responsible for these budget busters? It wasn’t the man in the street.

President George W. Bush cut taxes in the service of his party’s ideology, not in response to a groundswell of popular demand — and the bulk of the cuts went to a small, affluent minority.

Well gosh, what a surprise. Every time a right wing government gets in the rich get richer and the poor get screwed.

Skipping over stuff about America’s wars, and role in the financial crisis, which are less relevant to NZ, we get to:

Needless to say, that’s not what you hear from European policy makers. The official story in Europe these days is that governments of troubled nations catered too much to the masses, promising too much to voters while collecting too little in taxes. And that is, to be fair, a reasonably accurate story for Greece. But it’s not at all what happened in Ireland and Spain, both of which had low debt and budget surpluses on the eve of the crisis.

New Zealand being in line with Ireland and Spain in those respects. Krugman ties the fate of Ireland and Spain to the euro zone, another “elite vision imposed on highly reluctant voters”. That’s not relevant to NZ of course, we were just collateral damage of the crisis, petrol price rises, and tax cuts that we couldn’t pay for.

Does any of this matter? Why should we be concerned about the effort to shift the blame for bad policies onto the general public?

One answer is simple accountability. People who advocated budget-busting policies during the Bush years shouldn’t be allowed to pass themselves off as deficit hawks; people who praised Ireland as a role model shouldn’t be giving lectures on responsible government.

Can anyone think of a prominent New Zealand politician who “praised Ireland as a role model”? Anyone? You at the back?

But the larger answer, I’d argue, is that by making up stories about our current predicament that absolve the people who put us here there, we cut off any chance to learn from the crisis. We need to place the blame where it belongs, to chasten our policy elites. Otherwise, they’ll do even more damage in the years ahead.

Hear hear. In all the discussion of our knackered economy, our record deficit, our borrowing $380 million a week, and so on, the only “solution” ever being proposed is a slash and burn budget. Cutting back on spending at every turn. Why no discussion of the obvious alternative? Reverse National’s unaffordable tax cuts. They did nothing to stimulate the economy and they’ve left us deep in a hole. Don’t let our own “policy elites” sell us a pack of lies while ignoring the tax cut elephant in the room.

19 comments on “Krugman: The unwisdom of elites”

  1. rainman 1

    Because the Nats are in government, and if they reversed the tax cuts they would be guaranteed to be voted out, no matter how asleep Labour is – they campaigned on tax cuts, implemented tax cuts, and have nothing else of substance to offer to their voters.

    Not. Gonna. Happen.

    • ZeeBop 1.1

      Ask how Key would pay for the tax cuts, would he raise GST. Key said No.
      As petrol price shocks and food spikes roll in people are finding the tax cuts don’t
      cover all the extra costs, and inflation from the GST. So whereas Key
      figured most people would be better off, any increase in the cost of living
      will harm those on more income, turning believers into disbelievers.
      Key lied about tax cuts, he borrowed because GST hike didn’t cover it,
      he said he wouldn’t cut services, and yet he now has done both.
      They were unaffordable even before the petrol price rises and the
      food price spikes.

      Now look at Australia, instead of tax cuts for the rich, they gave
      everyone hundreds of dollars, their economy quickly rebounded.
      We have a commodities boom, we are a commodities exporter,
      so why are we going backwards? Our currency is a buy! How
      can the world market value our nation so highly yet the economy
      is so signs of so much pain? It doesn’t make sense until you understand
      the type of capitalist we breed in NZ, the distorter scavenger
      parasite speculator. We need a capital gains tax, GST off food,
      catch up with Australia on fair taxation.

    • ghostwhowalksnz 1.2

      Key and English have allready reversed tax cuts they promised before the election and then changed the laws they passed 6 months later. Que Sera ?

  2. Jim Nald 2

    Actually, with due respect, the full and honest argument would be to reverse the double con jobs of tax cuts and also the GST increases.

    Remember the GST increases were sold to us stupid voters as a ‘fiscally neutral’ package with the tax cuts?

    The new incoming Govt, who will govern for the many of us working poor, can compromise by going only halfway – Reversing the tax cuts would only be half the dose of policy medicine. That’s do-able.
    Next.

  3. marsman 3

    What a great article,clear and concise. Applies exactly to NZ. The same kind of parasites waving the same kind of sticks.

  4. ianmac 4

    Yes. A crystal clear identification of the problems.
    But the solution? Can Labour canvass on reversing tax cuts? That would take real courage.
    Can Labour restore GST to 12.5%? Mmmm.
    Can Labour increase tax to balance the books? That might be surprisingly better received than supposed.
    Would anyone propose that the cause of debt for NZ is not the people but the Banks that have over 70% of the liability and therefore must be held to account.

    Anyway it might help if Krugman’s points were held as a checklist and marked against current and future policies from any party. (But don’t expect much clarity from National. Not much before the last election.)

    • Colonial Viper 4.1

      Can Labour canvass on reversing tax cuts? That would take real courage.
      Can Labour restore GST to 12.5%? Mmmm.
      Can Labour increase tax to balance the books? That might be surprisingly better received than supposed.

      Can Labour give us some firm election year policy please.

      And this does not mean re-hashing lines out of speeches which are months old.

  5. Carol 5

    Somewhere in there, as part of the problem, are the corporates who actively promote and market consumerism and the need for people to constantly update their products and services, spending on things they don’t always need.

    Governments need to counter this by focusing on encouraging businesses that cater to our needs, at a reasonable price, through production of real stuff, and not promoting getting rich on financial speculation.

    • Colonial Viper 5.1

      Learning from cigarette promotions, and focussing on TV advertising, I can suggest:

      1) All TV ads to be in low definition only – 360p or similar.
      2) All TV ads to be in black and white only.
      3) No music in TV ads (unless the goods or service being advertised is music).
      4) No TV advertising on Sundays.
      5) No advertising for an hour after school.
      6) Stricter regs against misleading or untrue advertising claims.

      🙂

      • Treetop 5.1.1

        Unrealistic ads irritate me. The cost of ingredients required to assemble a meal in most cooking programme also irritates me. Who can afford to purchase what advertisers and cooking programmes ram down our throat without considering the cost?

        With most ads there is a much cheaper alternative e.g. a plastic bag verses a plastic container. A packet compared to individual sachets, (this trend has got worse and worse). There are some great natural home made remedies which work better than some expensive cleaners and beauty products e.g. sage is a main ingredient in homemade hair dye.

      • Alwyn 5.1.2

        Let’s introduce it for the political ads before the election this year.
        The one that would be particularly effective would be number 6.
        Yea. No party ads at all this year!

      • Jum 5.1.3

        You need to focus on all advertisements this election year. The one about the ‘I should have chosen the blue one’ ute ad was a perfect example of supporters paying for ads that have not been focussed back on the NAct party in relation to campaign allowances. Ansell has proved how manipulative and damaging ads can be and The Hollow Men has proved how dishonest this government is.

        People advocating equal and fair election campaigns should be FORMALLY complaining to the Broadcasting authority if anything looks remotely like an ad favouring the rich that support NAct.

    • PeteG 5.2

      Somewhere in there, as part of the problem, are the corporates who actively promote and market consumerism and the need for people to constantly update their products and services, spending on things they don’t always need.

      That’s a dilemma – if people stopped wasting so much money on consumist crap there would be a significant contraction in business activity. That’s actually what’s happening now on a minor scale, spending has been reduced, debt repayments have improved, both of which are good but the flow on effect of that is short term it is slowing the recovery from recession. Longer term it will be better for individuals and for the country.

  6. arandar 6

    Just watched John Pilger’s ‘The War on Democracy’. Far too many similarities between them, there and then and us, here and now. If you haven’t seen it, get it out. If you haven’t seen it for a while, watch it again.
    Yes, our basic realities differ somewhat; our indigenous people are a minority for one thing and our growing poor are spread across a range of less easily identifiable groups; young, ethnic, migrant, aged, unwell, women, we don’t have a history of military intervention in our governments, at least recently, and I’ll grant our economic starting points were well upscale. Never the less…

    Our elites are the same old suspects; the already wealthy and powerful buying or selling our country and our assets. It is they who are manipulating our economy or allowing it to be manipulated by foreign influences and big business; big oil, big banks, big media.

    Perhaps the thing that will save the world today from the worst excesses of the elites of the past is access to the internet. Without that, they would be able to sell us double-downs and reality tv, the equivalent of bread and circuses, treat us like a nation of mushrooms and get away with it.

    • Jum 6.1

      Arandar,

      I watched it. Until New Zealanders begin to realise that Key is the new Pinochet, they won’t take the degradation of our country seriously.

      The people of Venezuela and Chile certainly put Kiwis to shame, when it comes to fighting back to retain our dignity and our autonomy.

      Maybe Kiwis don’t really value their country. They will, but it will not be until they have suffered the same at the hands of the US which is moving in behind Key.

      Everything I could see and blogged about Key doing to achieve what America wants has been ignored but is swiftly happening.

      Just how far America will go to achieve control over NZ, related to their Latin American plots, remains to be seen, as the greedy and the selfish in New Zealand put their own greed above all others, as evidenced by Act’s rise in the polls, but it is obvious America views its own needs and desires as paramount over any other country’s needs. Capitalism, Fascism, Communism, Act individualism – all ignore the needs of people because they are too wound up in their flawed ideologies. We need a people’s charter. I don’t mean binding referenda either; that’s tied into the majority prejudices.

  7. aj 7

    Tax cuts will be ‘north of $40 a week’…..

    • felix 7.1

      North of $50 I think you’ll find was the clarion call to the voters in 2008.

      • Draco T Bastard 7.1.1

        And I’m still amazed that people actually bought the line. There’s no way that more than $50/week for average wage earners was affordable.

  8. Krugman is the #1 economic voice in the world right now. Putting that out there…

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    The CivilianBy admin
    1 week ago
  • Has Mr. Whippy gone too far by parking on our front lawns?
    Mr. Whippy’s business model has driven it down a dark road of intimidation. Residents in major centres around the country are becoming disgruntled by the increasingly aggressive actions of purported ice cream company Mr. Whippy, who have taken to parking on people’s front lawns and doorsteps in a desperate attempt ...
    The CivilianBy admin
    1 week ago
  • Cleaning up the water
    Today the government released its Action Plan for Healthy Waterways, aimed at cleaning up our lakes and rivers. Its actually quite good. There will be protection for wetlands, better standards for swimming spots, a requirement for continuous improvement, and better standards for wastewater and stormwater. But most importantly, there's a ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    1 week ago
  • Fronting up
    Today I appeared before the Environment Committee to give an oral submission on the Zero Carbon Bill. Over 1,500 people have asked to appear in person, so they've divided into subcommittees and are off touring the country, giving people a five minute slot each. The other submitters were a mixed ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    1 week ago
  • Politics of science – making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear
    Anti-fluoride activists have some wealthy backers – they are erecting billboards misrepresenting the Canadian study on many New Zealand cities – and local authorities are ordering their removal because of their scaremongering. Many New Zealanders ...
    1 week ago
  • Democracy – I Don’t Think So
    So, those who “know best” have again done their worst. While constantly claiming to be the guardians of democracy and the constitution, and respecters of the 2016 referendum result, diehard Remainers (who have never brought themselves to believe that their advice could have been rejected) have striven might and main ...
    Bryan GouldBy Bryan Gould
    1 week ago
  • Government says it will now build just one really nice home
    Following publication of this article, the Ministry has requested it to be noted that this supplied image is not necessarily representative of what the final house will look like, and it “probably won’t be that nice.” As part of today’s long-anticipated reset of the Government’s flagship KiwiBuild policy, Housing Minister ...
    The CivilianBy admin
    2 weeks ago
  • Imperialism and your cup of coffee
    Over the next week or two we will be running three synopses of parts of the opening chapter of John Smith’s Imperialism in the 21st Century (New York, Monthly Review Press, 2016).  The synopsis and commentary below is written by Phil Duncan. Marx began Capital not with a sweeping historical ...
    RedlineBy Admin
    2 weeks ago
  • Still juking the stats
    The State Services Commission and Ombudsman have released another batch of OIA statistics, covering the last six months. Request volumes are up, and the core public service is generally handling them within the legal timeframe, though this may be because they've learned to extend rather than just ignore things. And ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    2 weeks ago
  • Hard News: Time for a New Deal: 25 years on
    In 1994, I was editing an ambitious street mag called Planet, from a fabled office at at 309 Karangahape Road. The thirteenth issue of the magazine was published in the winter of that year and its cover embodied a particularly ambitious goal: the end of cannabis prohibition.I wanted to do ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Not impressed
    KiwiBuild was one of the Ardern government's core policies. The government would end the housing crisis and make housing affordable again by building 100,000 new homes. Of course, it didn't work out like that: targets weren't met, the houses they did build were in the wrong place, and the whole ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    2 weeks ago
  • Solar beats coal
    As the climate crisis escalates, it is now obvious that we need to radically decarbonise our economy. The good news is that its looking easy and profitable for the energy sector. Wind is already cheaper than fossil fuels, and now solar is too:The levellised cost of solar PV has fallen ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    2 weeks ago
  • A Step Too Far.
    A Crown Asset? For reasons relating to its own political convenience, the Crown pretends to believe that “No one owns the water.” To say otherwise would re-vivify the promises contained in the Treaty of Waitangi – most particularly those pertaining to the power of the chiefs and their proprietary rights ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Where Money Comes From
    Most people would say, no doubt, that they have a pretty good idea of what money is. They live with the reality of money every day. It is what is needed to buy the necessities of life and to maintain a decent standard of living. You get money, they would ...
    Bryan GouldBy Bryan Gould
    2 weeks ago
  • Banned by the Green Party leadership: Jill Abigail on women’s rights and trans rights
    The article below was an opinion piece that appeared in the Spring 2019 issue of Te Awa (the NZ Green Party’s newsletter) and on the Greens website.  In keeping with their policy of hostility to women defending women’s right to female-only spaces, Green bureaucrats have since removed the opinion piece.  ...
    RedlineBy Admin
    2 weeks ago
  • The fallacy of the proximity argument.
    Longer term readers may remember my complaining that, as a political scientist, it is burdensome to have non-political scientists wanting to engage me about politics. No layperson would think to approach an astrophysicist and lecture him/her on the finer details of quarks and black holes, but everybody with an opinion ...
    KiwipoliticoBy Pablo
    2 weeks ago
  • Where We Stood: Chris Trotter Replies To Stevan Eldred-Grigg.
    Joining The Fight: Stevan Eldred-Grigg's argument for New Zealand staying out of the Second World War fails not only on the hard-headed grounds of preserving the country’s strategic and economic interests; and not just on the soft-hearted grounds of duty and loyalty to the nation that had given New Zealand ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Universities back the climate strike
    On September 27, School Strike 4 Climate will be striking for a future to pressure the government for meaningful climate action. This time, they've asked adults to join them. And now, Lincoln University and Victoria University of Wellington have signed on:Victoria University of Wellington has joined Lincoln University in endorsing ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    2 weeks ago
  • Another constitutional outrage
    Another day, another constitutional outrage in the UK. This time, the government is saying that if parliament passes a law to stop Brexit before being prorogued, they may just ignore it:A senior cabinet minister has suggested Boris Johnson could defy legislation to prevent a no-deal Brexit if it is forced ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    2 weeks ago
  • Ending dairy in Canterbury
    Environment Canterbury has finally proposed nitrogen limits to stop dairy farmers from poisoning Christchurch's water supply. And naturally, farmers are whining about it:A proposed move by Environment Canterbury (ECan) to protect Christchurch's drinking water by setting tough – some would say, draconian – nitrate reductions in the decades ahead and ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    2 weeks ago
  • Is National the party of climate arson?
    The Zero Carbon Bill is currently before select committee. While its targets are weak, its a generally sensible bill that promises to establish a long-term framework to guide emissions reductions. But National hasn't made up its mind on whether it will support it - and according to Andrea Vance in ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    2 weeks ago
  • Experts warn Harold the Giraffe “well past” typical giraffe life expectancy, may not have long
    Dum-de-doo. Children across New Zealand have known him for generations as the lovable giraffe who tells them to exercise, hydrate and not to shove lit cigarettes up their nostrils. But a world renowned giraffe expert says we shouldn’t be getting attached to Life Education’s Harold the Giraffe, as he is ...
    The CivilianBy admin
    2 weeks ago
  • August ’19 – NZ blogs sitemeter ranking
    Image credit: 22 BLOGGERS WITH ADVICE FOR RESEARCHERS AND EVALUATORS, ILLUSTRATED I notice a few regulars no longer allow public access to the site counters. This may happen accidentally when the blog format is altered. If your ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Bye, bye to the collusion lie
    Sums it up, really. ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Opinion: Treat your car by buying extra petrol to snack on while you aren’t driving
    By Mike Hosking. Yesterday morning, I waltzed into work, and as I walked past the drones aggressively typing out news on the computers I’ve repeatedly asked to be moved further away from, I caught a glimpse of the words “climate change”, and noticed that suspiciously they weren’t in condescending quotation ...
    The CivilianBy admin
    2 weeks ago
  • US imperialism, Huawei, racism and imperial anxiety
    by Tony Norfield US political opinion against China has two solid bases. The first is the longstanding racist and protectionist sentiment in the white working class; the second is a more recent anxiety about China’s economic prowess in America’s ruling elite. This article notes some historical aspects of anti-Chinese racism ...
    RedlineBy Admin
    2 weeks ago

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