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Politics Trumping Reason In Stimulus Debate

January 19, 2009
Politics transforms a reasoned system into a tool for control.

Politics transforms a reasoned system into a tool for control.

Nobel-laureate Paul Krugman is “perturbed by the state of debate over fiscal stimulus. … This has not been one of the profession’s finest hours.”

There are certainly legitimate arguments against spending-based fiscal stimulus. You can worry about the burden of debt; you can argue that the government will spend money so badly that the jobs created are not worth having; and I’m sure there are other arguments worth taking seriously.

What’s been disturbing, however, is the parade of first-rate economists making totally non-serious arguments against fiscal expansion.

Everyone he lists in his post is politically conservative, to which he says…

That’s their right: economists are citizens too. But it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that all of them have decided on political grounds that they don’t want a spending-based fiscal stimulus — and that these political considerations have led them to drop their usual quality-control standards when it comes to economic analysis.

Think back to the time between 9/11 and the Mission Accomplished press conference, when anyone who disagreed with President Bush was deemed, at best, a partisan opponent and, at worst, a traitor. Reasoned, honest debate was squashed as disingenuous political maneuvering.

Those were challenging, uncertain times, but the scale of that threat is dwarfed into absurdity by the systemic economic collapse continuing around us today.

When met with a crisis, we look to detached, objective experts to provide leadership and to create a path to safety. Economists who, thanks to their past, excellent work, have emerged as experts and leaders are brought front and center under the spotlight of societal need.

To revel in the spotlight and masquerade political plays as reasoned opinion is an abuse of trust and tarnishes the reputation of these experts. While the personal harm may be great, even worse is the harm to society. Krugman left the gloves on for that post, but should the posturing continue, I hope he ignores restraint and unleashes fury.

I expect that Obama and his team will have the confidence and security to cut to the truth. The real question is how will Congress respond? The last, Democratically-led Congress was weak. Hopefully now the leadership will be hitting their stride and will similarly be able to work for the public good. If, instead, politics trumps objectivity, we’re all in trouble.

[Image by Warren Noronha, used under a Creative Commons license.]

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