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Rendering unto Krugman

Rendering unto Krugman June 28, 2010

In a couple of recent posts (here and here), Brad DeLong responds to the accusation that he and Paul Krugman are oversimplifying the current debate between austerity and growth.

Let's be clear: this accusation comes from those trying to defend the claim that 9.7-percent unemployment is acceptable. Worse than that, it comes from those arguing that 9.7-percent unemployment may not be high enough.

Which is a difficult thing to argue while still being a decent person. To quote one of my favorite economists, Karol Jozef Wojtyla (emphasis original):

When we consider the rights of workers in relation to the "indirect
employer," that is to say, all the agents at the national and
international level that are responsible for the whole orientation of
labor
policy, we must first direct our attention to a fundamental issue: the
question
of finding work, or, in other words, the issue of suitable
employment for all who are capable of it.
The opposite of a just and
right
situation in this field is unemployment, that is to say the lack of work
for
those who are capable of it. It can be a question of general
unemployment or of
unemployment in certain sectors of work. The role of the agents included
under
the title of indirect employer is to act against unemployment, which
in
all cases is an evil, and which, when it reaches a certain level, can
become a
real social disaster.

So let me oversimplify things a bit more. Unemployment is, right now, as JP2 says, "the opposite of a just and right situation" and "an evil" and "a real social disaster." DeLong and Krugman are arguing that something can and ought to be done or at least tried to reduce that evil. In response, their critics accuse them of oversimplifying. "Macroeconomics is not, by any reasonable measure, simple," Kartik Athreya counters, meaning that the reason "the opposite of a just and right situation" should be embraced is very, very complex and something that we laypeople couldn't possibly be expected to understand.

This calls to mind an old story:

Dime1 But knowing their hypocrisy, he said unto them, "Why are you putting me to the test? Bring me a dime and let me see it."

And they brought one. Then he said to them, "Whose head is this — FDR's or Herbert Hoover's?"

They answered, "Roosevelt's."

And he said unto them, "Right. So shut up. Have you morons already forgotten the 20th Century? When the choice is between imitating what worked and what really, really didn't work, why are you pretending it's terribly complicated?"

And after that, no one dared to ask him any question.

I'm not an economist, but we've got five applicants for every single job opening. If you tell me that the best response to that situation is to lay off hundreds of thousands of teachers, I will not accept that this means that you're smarter and more expert than I am. I will instead conclude — regardless of your prestige or position or years of study — that you're a moral imbecile. And knowing what I know about your inability to make moral judgments I will have no reason to trust you to make complicated macroeconomic ones.

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