Paul Krugman Talks to Bill Moyers About How to Speed Recovery -- And Why He Doesn't Want to Run the Treasury
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BILL MOYERS: So your prescription in this book, and the book is an argument for the prescription, is that the government should spend more so that people can buy more. In other words, creating demand that will drive the economy. That's the chief argument in here.
PAUL KRUGMAN: That's right. There are some other things you can do. Debt relief, where you can do it, will help because it will make people able to spend more. There're some things that the, maybe the Federal Reserve can do, even though interest rates are zero. But the core thing, the thing that we know works, the thing that all the evidence of history says works in a situation like this is the private sector won't spend, government can step in and provide the spending that we need in order to keep this economy afloat.
BILL MOYERS: As you know, there is an argument on the other side that says that Roosevelt, in spending in the '30s, did not really bring us out of the Depression. It was, and you acknowledge this in the book, the war, in which so much money was spent, you couldn't help but put people to work.
PAUL KRUGMAN: That's right. But the fact that it was a war that finally got the U.S. government to spend enough is not an argument against spending. It's an argument about politics. It's saying that then, as now, lots of people were saying, "Oh, it would be irresponsible to spend," and it wasn't until something external came along that the political restraints were released.
And then, we didn't, we actually were, we had recovered from the Great Depression before Pearl Harbor, because the U.S. economy really went to war in 1940. And presto. I mean, lots of people said, "Oh, spending more can't produce recovery." And then we started our military buildup because war had broken out in Europe. And suddenly, we had recovery.
I made it as a joke, but if we discovered a threat from space aliens and decided that to deal with that threat, we needed to actually, somehow or other we needed to do a lot of infrastructure spending. We needed to build roads and high-speed rail. We would have full employment.
BILL MOYERS: By full employment, you mean?
PAUL KRUGMAN: Something like 5 percent unemployment.
BILL MOYERS: There essentially will always be a certain number of people who are not working for one reason or another.
PAUL KRUGMAN: Yeah. It's a dynamic economy. There's always going to be companies failing. There's always going to be people quitting a job and taking some time to find a new one. There's a lot of friction in the economy. So the fact of the matter is that normal, a normally pretty full employment economy is still going to have 5 percent measured unemployment. That's okay. But there's a world of difference between that and right now the official number is in the high sevens. But a lot of measures suggest it's a lot worse than that. I mean, and most important, we have four million who've been out of work for more than a year, which is unprecedented since the 1930s.
BILL MOYERS: Yeah, you write that we are in a depression that is essentially gratuitous. We don't need to be suffering so much pain and destroying so many lives.
PAUL KRUGMAN: Gratuitous in the sense that there's nothing, the only obstacles to putting people to work, to having those lives restored, to producing hundreds of billions, probably 900 billion a year or so of extra valuable stuff in our economy, is in our minds.