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May 1st, 2009
09:06 AM ET

An affordable salvation

Paul Krugman
The New York Times

The 2008 election ended the reign of junk science in our nation’s capital, and the chances of meaningful action on climate change, probably through a cap-and-trade system on emissions, have risen sharply.

But the opponents of action claim that limiting emissions would have devastating effects on the U.S. economy. So it’s important to understand that just as denials that climate change is happening are junk science, predictions of economic disaster if we try to do anything about climate change are junk economics.

Yes, limiting emissions would have its costs. As a card-carrying economist, I cringe when “green economy” enthusiasts insist that protecting the environment would be all gain, no pain.

But the best available estimates suggest that the costs of an emissions-limitation program would be modest, as long as it’s implemented gradually. And committing ourselves now might actually help the economy recover from its current slump.

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Filed under: Economy • Energy • Environmental issues • Paul Krugman
April 27th, 2009
10:41 AM ET

Money for Nothing

Paul Krugman
The New York Times

On July 15, 2007, The New York Times published an article with the headline “The Richest of the Rich, Proud of a New Gilded Age.” The most prominently featured of the “new titans” was Sanford Weill, the former chairman of Citigroup, who insisted that he and his peers in the financial sector had earned their immense wealth through their contributions to society.

Soon after that article was printed, the financial edifice Mr. Weill took credit for helping to build collapsed, inflicting immense collateral damage in the process. Even if we manage to avoid a repeat of the Great Depression, the world economy will take years to recover from this crisis.

All of which explains why we should be disturbed by an article in Sunday’s Times reporting that pay at investment banks, after dipping last year, is soaring again — right back up to 2007 levels.

Why is this disturbing? Let me count the ways.

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Filed under: Economy • Paul Krugman
April 17th, 2009
10:59 AM ET

Green Shoots and Glimmers

Paul Krugman
The New York Times

Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman, sees “green shoots.” President Obama sees “glimmers of hope.” And the stock market has been on a tear.

So is it time to sound the all clear? Here are four reasons to be cautious about the economic outlook.

1. Things are still getting worse. Industrial production just hit a 10-year low. Housing starts remain incredibly weak. Foreclosures, which dipped as mortgage companies waited for details of the Obama administration’s housing plans, are surging again.

The most you can say is that there are scattered signs that things are getting worse more slowly — that the economy isn’t plunging quite as fast as it was. And I do mean scattered: the latest edition of the Beige Book, the Fed’s periodic survey of business conditions, reports that “five of the twelve Districts noted a moderation in the pace of decline.” Whoopee.

2. Some of the good news isn’t convincing. The biggest positive news in recent days has come from banks, which have been announcing surprisingly good earnings. But some of those earnings reports look a little ... funny.

Wells Fargo, for example, announced its best quarterly earnings ever. But a bank’s reported earnings aren’t a hard number, like sales; for example, they depend a lot on the amount the bank sets aside to cover expected future losses on its loans. And some analysts expressed considerable doubt about Wells Fargo’s assumptions, as well as other accounting issues.

Meanwhile, Goldman Sachs announced a huge jump in profits from fourth-quarter 2008 to first-quarter 2009. But as analysts quickly noticed, Goldman changed its definition of “quarter” (in response to a change in its legal status), so that — I kid you not — the month of December, which happened to be a bad one for the bank, disappeared from this comparison.

I don’t want to go overboard here. Maybe the banks really have swung from deep losses to hefty profits in record time. But skepticism comes naturally in this age of Madoff.

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Filed under: Economy • Paul Krugman • President Barack Obama • Raw Politics
March 9th, 2009
10:45 AM ET

Behind the curve

President Obama says his stimulus plan will spur job creation.

President Obama says his stimulus plan will spur job creation.

Paul Krugman
The New York Times

President Obama’s plan to stimulate the economy was “massive,” “giant,” “enormous.” So the American people were told, especially by TV news, during the run-up to the stimulus vote. Watching the news, you might have thought that the only question was whether the plan was too big, too ambitious.

Yet many economists, myself included, actually argued that the plan was too small and too cautious. The latest data confirm those worries — and suggest that the Obama administration’s economic policies are already falling behind the curve.

To see how bad the numbers are, consider this: The administration’s budget proposals, released less than two weeks ago, assumed an average unemployment rate of 8.1 percent for the whole of this year. In reality, unemployment hit that level in February — and it’s rising fast.

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Filed under: Economy • Paul Krugman • Unemployment
December 26th, 2008
02:43 PM ET

Barack be good

President-elect Obama shakes hands with troops having Christmas dinner at a military base in Hawaii.

President-elect Obama shakes hands with troops having Christmas dinner at a military base in Hawaii.

Paul Krugman
The New York Times

Times have changed. In 1996, President Bill Clinton, under siege from the right, declared that “the era of big government is over.” But President-elect Barack Obama, riding a wave of revulsion over what conservatism has wrought, has said that he wants to “make government cool again.”

Before Mr. Obama can make government cool, however, he has to make it good. Indeed, he has to be a goo-goo.

Goo-goo, in case you’re wondering, is a century-old term for “good government” types, reformers opposed to corruption and patronage. Franklin Roosevelt was a goo-goo extraordinaire. He simultaneously made government much bigger and much cleaner. Mr. Obama needs to do the same thing.

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Filed under: Barack Obama • Economy • Paul Krugman • Raw Politics