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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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BILL MOYERS: What is the answer?

PAUL KRUGMAN: It's partly that this is, it sounds serious. Never you know, never underestimate the importance of just plain what comes across. Start so it's partly just it sounds serious, it's the kind of thing that people who wear good suits are likely to talk about. Partly it is actually, of course, a deliberate pressure campaign.

BILL MOYERS: For example, Pete Peterson, Nixon's Secretary of the Commerce, billionaire several times over has set up this Fix the Debt campaign and is said to be putting half a billion dollars into trying to influence the public.

PAUL KRUGMAN: Yeah, actually it's not just Fix the Debt, that's just the latest incarnation. There's also the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, there's the newspaper "The Fiscal Times," there's several others. It's a whole portfolio. They all are Peterson Foundation money at the roots, but they're all out there. And yeah, serious attempts to influence public debate are not, by and large, a very lavishly funded enterprise.

BILL MOYERS: But in this case?

PAUL KRUGMAN: But in this case, you've got so half a billion dollars, $500 million of spending with one agenda is going to have a huge impact. You know, policy intellectuals, by and large come cheap. A few hundred thousand in consulting contracts could do a lot there.

BILL MOYERS: Do you think some of them are serious about the debt leading to a loss of confidence on the part of investors in foreign governments? I mean, even three years ago Barack Obama expressed concern about the long term debt and the confidence of people in the U.S. government. Take a listen.

BARACK OBAMA: There may be some tax provisions that can encourage businesses to hire sooner rather than sitting on the sidelines. So we're taking a look at those. I think it is important, though, to recognize that if we keep on adding to the debt, even in the midst of this recovery, that at some point, people could lose confidence in the US economy in a way that could actually lead to a double-dip recession.

PAUL KRUGMAN: I remember that well. And at the time it was going on, I do occasionally find myself in meetings with Very Serious People myself. I guess I am personally one now and then. There was this widespread view among people, and not all of it venal, not all of it self-interested, that somehow things were hanging by a thread. That any day now we could have a run on U.S. government debt, which was wrong.

But, okay, I can see how people could for a while have believed that. But a lot of time has gone by since then. And I hope that at least some people have learned better. But it's amazing how little the continued failure of these warnings to actually be vindicated by anything has…how little of that's actually affected the debate.

And there's a special issue here, which I've actually tried to get across now, and I find that I get resistance even from people who are, I would've hoped were more flexible. It's even very hard to tell the story about how this loss of confidence is supposed to work. I mean, it's the United States is not like a European country that doesn't have its own currency.

The U.S. government cannot run out of cash unless Congress prevents it, you know creates an entirely self-inflicted shortage through the debt ceiling. How is it exactly that we're supposed to have this crisis that leads to a double dip recession? It really doesn't even make sense as a story. And yet it is one of those things that people say and by and large, are not contradicted on.

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