Monday, October 31, 2011

Even Paul Krugman thinks Max Boot sounds like Paul Krugman

I've poked fun at conservative defense writer Max Boot lately because of Boot's recent assertions that cutting defense spending would end up cutting American jobs in a soft economy. I noted that Boot sounded like liberal columnist Paul Krugman, and suggested that "mainstream conservative Republicans—whatever their fiscal rhetoric—have long favored the soft socialism of big defense spending."

Krugman sounds the same theme this morning, not mentioning Boot specifically, but otherwise making the same point. He calls this crowd "weaponized Keynesians," a term borrowed from Barney Frank.
First things first: Military spending does create jobs when the economy is depressed. Indeed, much of the evidence that Keynesian economics works comes from tracking the effects of past military buildups. Some liberals dislike this conclusion, but economics isn’t a morality play: spending on things you don’t like is still spending, and more spending would create more jobs.

Beyond that, there’s a point made long ago by the Polish economist Michael Kalecki: to admit that the government can create jobs is to reduce the perceived importance of business confidence.

Appeals to confidence have always been a key debating point for opponents of taxes and regulation; Wall Street’s whining about President Obama is part of a long tradition in which wealthy businessmen and their flacks argue that any hint of populism on the part of politicians will upset people like them, and that this is bad for the economy. Once you concede that the government can act directly to create jobs, however, that whining loses much of its persuasive power — so Keynesian economics must be rejected, except in those cases where it’s being used to defend lucrative contracts.
Right. I don't mind that Boot and his fellow hawks are making an economic argument for defense spending. I just wish they'd apply that same logic to the rest of government.

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