The Power of Bad Ideas

In sorting through the economic damage associated with the government shutdown and debt default threat, Paul Krugman rightly argues it’s part of a broader path of destruction wrought since the Republican takeover of the House in 2010. And since so many observers seem determined to deny that conservatives have any actual ideas other than constantly confronting their enemies, it’s good to hear him insist on the bad effects of ideological tenets the Right still holds onto fiercely:

We should also acknowledge the power of bad ideas. Back in 2011, triumphant Republicans eagerly adopted the concept, already popular in Europe, of “expansionary austerity” — the notion that cutting spending would actually boost the economy by increasing confidence. Experience since then has thoroughly refuted this concept: Across the advanced world, big spending cuts have been associated with deeper slumps. In fact, the International Monetary Fund eventually issued what amounted to a mea culpa, admitting that it greatly underestimated the harm that spending cuts inflict. As you may have noticed, however, today’s Republicans aren’t big on revising their views in the face of contrary evidence.

That’s for sure. Throughout the shutdown crisis, Republicans alternated between demanding disabling changes to the Affordable Care Act and demanding major reductions in “entitlement spending.” In the next collision scheduled for December and January, they’ll be back to the table asking for “entitlement reform” (which they won’t get because of their theological opposition to tax increases) but will settle for an extension of non-defense discretionary spending cuts via sequestration, all the while claiming it would be good for the economy. “Expansionary austerity” may be dead as a viable policy idea, but it remains the beating heart of GOP budgetary and economic “thinking.”

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.