In his column this morning, Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman recalls the debate of 10 years ago over the wisdom of going to war in Iraq and how anyone who opposed the war was dismissed by the hawks as “a foolish hippie.”
Well, that was then, says Krugman, and THIS is now:
[A] very similar story has played out over the past three years, this time about economic policy. Back then, all the important people decided that an unrelated war was an appropriate response to a terrorist attack; three years ago, they all decided that fiscal austerity was the appropriate response to an economic crisis caused by runaway bankers, with the supposedly imminent danger from budget deficits playing the role once played by Saddam’s alleged weapons of mass destruction.
Now, as then, this consensus has seemed impenetrable to counterarguments, no matter how well grounded in evidence. And now, as then, leaders of the consensus continue to be regarded as credible even though they’ve been wrong about everything (why do people keep treating Alan Simpson as a wise man?), while critics of the consensus are regarded as foolish hippies even though all their predictions — about interest rates, about inflation, about the dire effects of austerity — have come true.
So here’s my question: Will it make any difference that Ben Bernanke has now joined the ranks of the hippies?
Earlier this week, Mr. Bernanke delivered testimony that should have made everyone in Washington sit up and take notice. True, it wasn’t really a break with what he has said in the past or, for that matter, with what other Federal Reserve officials have been saying, but the Fed chairman spoke more clearly and forcefully on fiscal policy than ever before — and what he said, translated from Fedspeak into plain English, was that the Beltway obsession with deficits is a terrible mistake.