12 September 2011

Excuse Me Dr. Barro, Your Ideology Is Showing (Once More)

On Saturday, The New York Times ran this Op-Ed by Harvard economist Robert Barro. It seemed to me to be predictably thin gruel in large part because Barro failed totally to differentiate between the actual sources of our current deficit. If you look at this picture, it is clear that the economic depression and the inadequate stimulus spending that Bush-Obama generated to combat it are hardly the prime culprits. End the wars and tax people - both the wildly wealthy and the merely 'middle class' - at pre-Bush levels and the picture would look a lot different. And that presupposes, of course, that we ought primarily to be pre-occupied with deficits in the first place! Given the ongoing depression we might want to calibrate any such tax reform. But those are hardly the policy alternatives Barro presses us to examine. Instead he is, explicitly, using the depression to forward a conservative agenda. As he asserts: "crises are opportune times for these important, basic reforms." In other words, rather than worrying about the underlying causal story and proposing the sorts of remedy it makes relevant, Barro is peddling his conservative ideology pure and simple. This apparently shocked Paul Krugman.* Why, though? As I've noted here before, Barro's public pronouncements often amount to little more than ideology. And as I have said before too, even an economist should be able to do better than that.
* As it turns out not all economists were shocked by Barro's tissue of undefended assertion and non-sequitur.

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