Krugman’s Fear Mongering
Paul Krugman's latest column, "Depression and Democracy," is simply bizarre.
Paul Krugman‘s latest column, “Depression and Democracy,” is simply bizarre.
He begins with this assertion:
It’s time to start calling the current situation what it is: a depression. True, it’s not a full replay of the Great Depression, but that’s cold comfort. Unemployment in both America and Europe remains disastrously high.
Now, Krugman is a Nobel Prize winning economist whose claim to fame is research on the Great Depression. I have neither of those credentials. Still, words mean things and depression is not simply a period of high unemployment. Indeed, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research–the US government agency that officially declares these things–the recent recession lasted from December 2007 to June 2009. So, not only are we not in a depression, we’re not even in a recession but rather in a period of slow expansion that’s lasted more than two years.
From there, Krugman correctly assesses that “the crisis of the euro is killing the European dream. The shared currency, which was supposed to bind nations together, has instead created an atmosphere of bitter acrimony” and continues his long-running theme, which I find persuasive, that the transatlantic elite consensus that “austerity” is the solution to the current stagnation is dangerously wrongheaded.
Next, though, he goes off the deep end in declaring a crisis in European democracy on the basis that some fringe parties are getting votes in some countries with electoral rules that promote large numbers of parties and that Hungary is showing troubling signs.
A proposed election law creates gerrymandered districts designed to make it almost impossible for other parties to form a government; judicial independence has been compromised, and the courts packed with party loyalists; state-run media have been converted into party organs, and there’s a crackdown on independent media; and a proposed constitutional addendum would effectively criminalize the leading leftist party.
Taken together, all this amounts to the re-establishment of authoritarian rule, under a paper-thin veneer of democracy, in the heart of Europe. And it’s a sample of what may happen much more widely if this depression continues.
I’m not pleased, either, that the economic crisis is fueling resentments and giving rise to fringe parties and a man on horseback mentality. But that’s hardly unusual and seldom a recipe from long-term damage. And the notion that Hungary is somehow “the heart of Europe” is laughable. It has spent almost all its history under one dictator or another.
Things are undeniably bad. The failure of leadership in Europe could well send us into another economic spiral. The failure of leadership in Washington, too, is deeply concerning. And, yes, all of this has led to a poisonous political climate. But we don’t need wild hyperbole from respected voices like Krugman.