BROOKS IGNORES ALL THE RELEVANT DETAILS…. Looking back at the debate from early last year, the New York Times‘s David Brooks wasn’t exactly on board with the Republican economic strategy. At the time, President Obama was pushing a major stimulus package to respond to the crisis, while GOP lawmakers wanted a five-year spending freeze.
In early March 2009, Brooks said on national television, “A lot of Republicans up in Capitol Hill right now are calling for a spending freeze in a middle of a recession/depression. That is insane…. [T]hat is just insane.”
A year and a half later, Brooks’ wisdom on these issues has faded considerably. Consider today’s column, for example.
During the first half of this year, German and American political leaders engaged in an epic debate. American leaders argued that the economic crisis was so bad, governments should borrow billions to stimulate growth. German leaders argued that a little short-term stimulus was sensible, but anything more was near-sighted. What was needed was not more debt, but measures to balance budgets and restore confidence. […]
This divergence created a natural experiment. Who was right? The early returns suggest the Germans were…. The U.S. tried big, but is emerging slowly. The Germans tried small, and are recovering nicely.
Oddly enough, on Tuesday (almost certainly before Brooks’ column was written), of his NYT colleagues was describing this very argument as “foolish.” From Paul Krugman’s blog:
Basically, here’s the German story: it’s an economy that didn’t have a housing bubble, so it wasn’t caught up directly in the bust. But it’s very export-oriented, with a focus on durable manufactured goods. Demand for these goods plunged in the early stages of the crisis — so that Germany, remarkably, had a bigger GDP decline than the bubble economies — but has bounced back since summer 2009.
Be sure to check Krugman’s chart.
What’s more, Brooks boasts that Germany’s unemployment “has come down to pre-crisis levels.” What he doesn’t mention is that Germany embraced a policy in which the government subsidized employers to keep workers on the payroll, at reduced hours and only slightly reduced pay, instead of laying them off. It’s the kind of thing that keeps unemployment rates very low, but Brooks ignores the policy — a step the U.S. would never consider — as if it were irrelevant.
Brooks has no excuse for not knowing about this — it was explored in his own newspaper two weeks ago. The one policy that played a key role in improving the German job market had nothing to do with austerity or balanced budgets, and everything to do with a big-government program called “short work,” that would have caused widespread conservative apoplexy if Democrats even considered.
Did Brooks ignore this because it was a factual detail that interfered with his thesis, or did he just not read up on the subject?