It was my fate today to debate numerous conservatives on MS and CNBC.
I’m still thinking about the release of the Census data and the look-back at the lost decade for the poor and middle class. With figures like the one below in mind—the vividly different performance in middle-class income for working age households in the 1990s versus the 2000s–I was particularly struck by the arguments I was hearing.
These conservatives are very critical, of course, of the anti-recessionary measures of the Obama administration, but don’t have alternatives to move the jobless rate. It’s all corporate tax cuts and deregulation, which in case you’ve missed it, is their usual agenda, now opportunistically mapped onto the current jobs crisis. With after-tax corporate profits at historic highs and no evidence at all that shuttering the EPA would lead to jobs, the arguments lack substance. But that’s not my point.
What’s striking is that their rap basically amounts to this: “Yes, we followed the wrong economic map, lost a decade for the middle class and ultimately drove the economy off a cliff. But we don’t like the way you’re fixing the wreckage, so give us the keys back.”
They’re taking advantage of the fact that most people, including economists who should know better, like John Taylor, don’t do counterfactuals—what would likely have occurred absent stimulus measures—and saying, in essence:
“We may have made things really bad, but they’re still bad, ergo, you failed.”
“You haven’t solved the recession (and sure, we’ve fought your efforts every step of the way) so ignore that we botched the recovery and give us back the damn keys!”
I’m obviously being reductionist and it wasn’t just R’s that ignored the market failures and bubbles building in the 2000s recovery. But if “chutzpah” is when a child kills his parents and begs the court for mercy because he’s an orphan, then all this junk about tax cuts and deregulation is the economic version of chutzpah: “yes, I killed the economy, your honor, but with unemployment this high, have mercy…and let me take over right now!”