Paul Krugman is my hero

Paul Krugman, Laureate of the Sveriges Riksban...
Paul Krugman, Laureate of the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel 2008 at a press conference at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Paul Krugman says call it what it is: a depression. “A recession is when things are going down; a depression is when things are down, and stay that way for a long time.”

Krugman offered this opening comment to a sell-out crowd in San Francisco, where he was highlighting a Commonwealth Club event and promoting his new book, End This Depression Now. Ending this depression now is entirely possible, if you believe Nobel Prize-winner Krugman, and this writer believes Paul Krugman. Aside from in-house economist Bud Johns, who has accurately foretold so many economic events as to be spooky even if he hasn’t yet won a Nobel Prize, Krugman is the only living person able to make economic sense to my mathematically-challenged right-brained self. During his San Francisco talk he ticked off enough data to paint the picture — and it is not a pretty picture. Krugman compared the problematic impasse to a family car that had broken down. Its battery was dead. A new battery would make it run. But the man of the house refused to recognize the bad battery or consent to getting a new one, suggesting instead that the rest of the family just walk or take the bus. “You have a problem,” Krugman noted, “but the problem isn’t with the battery.”

So how to fix it? Before offering the answer, Krugman said first we have to understand that “government workers” aren’t the evil bureaucrats in Washington, but are the teachers, firefighters, service workers everywhere who are out of work, with their numbers threatening to be increased. Then he listed steps he would recommend:

First, a huge infusion of money (none of this timid stuff, which Krugman reminds us is what had FDR triggering a double-dip depression in the late 1930s) from the feds to the states, so they can start re-hiring those teachers and public sector workers.

Second: debt relief, starting with mortgage debt and soon extending to other areas like student loans.

Third — then we get into monetary policy, and not even Bud Johns and Paul Krugman can explain that to yours truly in adequately simplified terms.

So the national debt remains staggering and everybody worries about what we’re bequeathing our grandchildren. At least we might keep the country afloat, mass desperation relieved and families together, and that would be something to bequeath.

Paul Krugman did not approve this over-simplified message. But he still gets my vote.

Obama's speech: inspiring or incoherent?

“Evil does exist in the world,” President Obama said. We cannot negotiate away our problems with Al Qaeda. “War, in one form or another, appeared with the first man.” We must not, he said, compromise “the very ideals we fight to defend.” Plus, there was whole business of the ‘just’ war: as long as it’s in self-defense, is a last resort, and you try not to kill too many people, especially civilians. It was a strange Peace Prize speech.

Many of us who voted for him with such optimism and (too-)high expectations caught our breath at the news of the peace prize. And listened with some skepticism to his Nobel address. We wish the options were better. We still hope.

The speech, comments Michael Muskal of the Washington Post, was “part political science lesson, part sermon and part politics, designed to answer domestic and international critics,” But I think the commentary that best summed up the speech came from Joseph Bottum, editor of First Things and a guest on PBS NewsHour Thursday night. It was “incoherent,” Bottum said, repeatedly, while addressing the points listed above.

The good word incoherent is defined, in old-fashioned dictionaries, as “without logical connection,” “rambling in reason,” “without congruity of parts.” Maybe this has to happen, when one is trying to answer critics and please supporters and whatever else in the world one speech, in accepting a peace prize, is intended to do. But for our most articulate, thoughtful and presumably peace-loving president in decades, it was a little disappointing — even if I can’t imagine what he might have done differently.

At the regular breakfast meeting of the San Francisco Interfaith Council, a peaceful group if ever there was one, the primary topic that same day was homeless veterans. Guests spoke of services being created and expanded to help the ever-growing population of returning veterans who wind up on the streets. Several members of SFIC are among the group which has shown up every Thursday at noon, rain or shine, for many years outside the Federal Building, to stand silently for peace. Many of them are Quakers, but there are always people of other faiths, or no faith at all except in the possibility of peace. One of them commented, at the end of the breakfast meeting, that the best way to solve the problem of homeless veterans would be to have fewer veterans. Perhaps even no veterans at all. “War,” he said, “is a choice.” His remarks were absolutely coherent.

Perhaps, one of these days, there will be a Nobel Prize for peace that has been made. It would be a lovely follow-up for Mr. Obama to receive a second time.