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Paul Krugman Talks to Bill Moyers About How to Speed Recovery -- And Why He Doesn't Want to Run the Treasury

"I probably have more influence doing what I do now than I would if I were inside trying to do the court power games that come with any White House...," Krugman said on "Moyers & Company."

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But right now you can get a quick boost just by rehiring those school teachers and filling those potholes. We are something like $300 billion a year short of the spending that we should be undertaking just for the normal business of government. And that extra $300 billion a year would be a really big deal for the economy if we could do it right now.

BILL MOYERS: Would it bring us to what you call full employment?

PAUL KRUGMAN: Probably not. Probably bring us down to an unemployment rate that was more in the 6 to 6.5 percent.

BILL MOYERS: How much would it add to the long term deficit?

PAUL KRUGMAN: Actually, nothing to the long term deficit, or almost nothing because this would not be a permanent set of measures. This would be something we'd do now. It would add headline suppose we spend $300 billion a year right now, additional. That's not $300 billion a year in extra debt because it's, the economy will be stronger, which means more revenue, which means less spending on unemployment benefits.

So it's probably under $200 billion a year in immediate borrowing. And there's a lot of reason to think that would actually, having a stronger economy now would actually strengthen the economy in the long run as well. Or put it this way, the other way, that having a really weak economy now is damaging our future and not just our present. Think about all college graduates who will never get the job they all should get.

That's not just harm for them, that's a future economy that is weaker than it should've been because it's wasting a lot of our talent. And there's a pretty good case, actually a pretty strong case, that if you think about the long run fiscal impact, spending more right now is actually positive even in terms of the long run budget situation because a stronger future economy will mean stronger revenue down the pike.

And the debt we incur right now, well, you know, the interest rate on U.S. long term debt is under 2 percent. Inflation protected U.S. long term debt has a negative interest rate. There's almost no, there's even, on purely fiscal terms, it's arguable that we should be spending more just to strengthen our long run budget position.

BILL MOYERS: Is there a limit to how much we can keep borrowing?

PAUL KRUGMAN: There may be, although all that we know, all of the evidence says it's a lot further away than conventional wisdom has it. I mean, like a lot of people, including Ben Bernanke, I got into all of these things by looking at Japan in the '90s. And Japan famously has run deficits year after year. And it has a level of debt that is about twice what we've got as a share of GDP.

And people have been predicting financial catastrophe for Japan year after year for ten years or more. They've had downgrades. Their debt was downgraded in 2002 by the major rating agencies. And everybody who believed those warnings and everybody -- has lost a lot of money. So it turns out that if you're an advanced country with its own currency and a reasonably stable government, you have a lot of running room on these things.

So am I worried? Yeah, I mean, I am worried about the U.S. fiscal situation 20 years from now. We do have a problem of health care costs and so on. But, you know, I'm worried about a lot of other things 20 years as well. I'm not sure that even if you take that long term perspective, that the budget should be at the top of your list of things to be afraid of.

 
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