I have had many occasions to praise Paul Krugman in this blog, so for once you’re going to see me criticize him. In his column today, Krugman heaps practically all the blame on the Republicans for the weak economic recovery following the 2008 financial crisis. Certainly, Republican indiscriminate obstructionism of any and all Obama administration initiatives deserves condemnation, but, astonishingly, Krugman hardly mentions the failings of the Democratic administration. I say “astonishingly” because in the past Krugman has never held back from lambasting Obama’s opting for fiscal austerity when it was precisely the wrong medicine for the economy.
As early as mid-2010, if not earlier, Obama was talking about how the government needed to cut back on its spending and live within its means, “just like families do.” At that point, the unemployment rate was still well over 9%; sound economic policy called for increased spending to stimulate demand. Instead, Obama endorsed deficit phobia, embracing conservative rhetoric about fiscal responsibility. This stance by an ostensibly progressive president was effectively an ideological surrender to the bad guys, much like Bill Clinton’s infamous “The era of big government is over.” It was not only wrongheaded from a policy standpoint; it was politically disastrous. Democrats going into the 2010 midterm elections should have been able to cite Republican obstructionism for continued economic woes. They couldn’t because their president wasn’t presenting any real alternative to the GOP’s shortsightedness. After the Republicans took control of the House that year, Obama had no chance for any major legislative accomplishments for the rest of his presidency.
Back then, Krugman ridiculed “Barack Herbert Hoover Obama” for promoting the false family-government budget equivalence and the myth that austerity was needed medicine. So why is Krugman sparing Obama now? My guess—just a guess—is that he is so preoccupied with the destructiveness of today’s Republican Party that he wants to paint as black a picture as possible of the GOP. There’s no room in that picture for acknowledging that the Republicans weren’t alone in prolonging the post-2008 economic slump.