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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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So you pour this extra liquidity into the economy and it just sits there. And that's the liquidity trap. It's a situation in which the ordinary monetary policy thing doesn't work.

A side consequence of that is it also means that if the government goes out and borrows more, it's not going to drive up interest rates because there's all this cash sitting out there looking for a place to go.

So the rules change. And liquidity traps are really rare. I mean, we had one in the 1930s and we've had another one since 2008. And aside from that, we had one in Japan in the 1990s, and that's about it. But when they happen, boy, they change all the rules. You find yourself in a different universe for economics.

BILL MOYERS: And they're not putting people to work.

PAUL KRUGMAN: That's right. A liquidity trap is a situation where the economy can stay depressed and there's no natural, certainly no fast natural route to recovery.

BILL MOYERS: So why would you be calling for more spending, given that reality?

PAUL KRUGMAN: Oh, but that’s the point, then the equation, what we’re looking for always, the problem…Basically all recessions are a problem of not enough spending in the economy. There are a few exceptions, basically, what we call a recession is, a case where there's not enough spending, and so there's not enough jobs. Normally, however, you can deal with that in a very narrow technocratic fashion, which is that the Federal Reserve cuts interest rates and stuff happens.

Now that doesn't work because we're in a liquidity trap. And so, this is where you say, "Okay, we need something else that's going to work, and it's very hard to come up with anything that is clearly effective, other than having the government go out and spend the money that the private sector won't." And this is why it, you know, this is, monetary policy is the aspirin of economic ailments. Take a couple whenever you're feeling that you have a headache. Now we had the over the counter remedy doesn't work and we need the, the heavy duty prescription medicine, and that's what I'm arguing for.

BILL MOYERS: Interesting you say that because I tried to condense to one sentence the message and argument of your book. And I wrote down, "The answer is simple. Increase spending and boost consumption because the fundamental problem at the root of this crisis is a lack of demand."

PAUL KRUGMAN: That's it. Now you can say that all crises’, or most crises’ anyway, most recessions are a lack of demand. But this is an intractable lack of demand. And so, we, we need we need government action of a type that most, at any point during the past 70 years, except this one, I would have said, "No, let's leave it up to my former colleague, Ben Bernanke." But he can't do the job right now. And so, we need the government.

BILL MOYERS: And if the president were sitting across the table from you and asking, "Where would you spend this money, Paul?" What would your answer be?

PAUL KRUGMAN: Right now it's easy because right now we can do it very quickly simply by restoring the spending cuts that have already happened. If you gave me unlimited carte blanche in terms of spending, I would want to go beyond that. I'd want to talk about and pretty straightforward things, even so. We have you know, fix the sewer lines. I mean, we have, we have a lot of, a lot of basic infrastructure needs that are worth doing in any case.

 
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