Paul Krugman apologizes -- sorta -- to Niall Ferguson





So, several people, including NF himself, have written in to say that Ferguson actually did concede that I was right about deficits and interest rates. Indeed he did; I missed it.

Unfortunately, there’s a very disturbing aspect to this sort-of concession; even while admitting that he had been wrong, Ferguson completely misrepresented his own earlier position, in an attempt to make it sound more defensible. Here’s his 2012 version:

FERGUSON: I think the issue here got a little confused, because Krugman wanted to portray me as a proponent of instant austerity, which I never was. My argument was that over ten years you have to have some credible plan to get back to fiscal balance because at some point you lose your credibility because on the present path, Congressional Budget Office figures make it clear, with every year the share of Federal tax revenues going to interest payments rises, there is a point after which it’s no longer credible. But I didn’t think that point was going to be this year or next year.

But here’s what he actually said in our original 2009 debate:

You can’t be a monetarist and a Keynesian simultaneously—at least I can’t see how you can, because if the aim of the monetarist policy is to keep interest rates down, to keep liquidity high, the effect of the Keynesian policy must be to drive interest rates up.

After all, $1.75 trillion is an awful lot of freshly minted treasuries to land on the bond market at a time of recession, and I still don’t quite know who is going to buy them. It’s certainly not going to be the Chinese. That worked fine in the good times, but what I call “Chimerica,” the marriage between China and America, is coming to an end. Maybe it’s going to end in a messy divorce.

No, the problem is that only the Fed can buy these freshly minted treasuries, and there is going to be, I predict, in the weeks and months ahead, a very painful tug-of-war between our monetary policy and our fiscal policy as the markets realize just what a vast quantity of bonds are going to have to be absorbed by the financial system this year. That will tend to drive the price of the bonds down, and drive up interest rates, which will also have an effect on mortgage rates—the precise opposite of what Ben Bernanke is trying to achieve at the Fed.

[Emphasis added.]

Points, then, for intellectual flexibility — but major demerits for trying to flush one’s own past statements down the memory hole.



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