The Pain Caucus

Further to my musings about the new definition of ‘courage’ as the willingness to inflict financial pain on others, here’s an interesting NYT column by Paul Krugman.

The extent to which inflicting economic pain has become the accepted thing was driven home to me by the latest report on the economic outlook from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, an influential Paris-based think tank supported by the governments of the world’s advanced economies. The O.E.C.D. is a deeply cautious organization; what it says at any given time virtually defines that moment’s conventional wisdom. And what the O.E.C.D. is saying right now is that policy makers should stop promoting economic recovery and instead begin raising interest rates and slashing spending.

What’s particularly remarkable about this recommendation is that it seems disconnected not only from the real needs of the world economy, but from the organization’s own economic projections.

Thus, the O.E.C.D. declares that interest rates in the United States and other nations should rise sharply over the next year and a half, so as to head off inflation. Yet inflation is low and declining, and the O.E.C.D.’s own forecasts show no hint of an inflationary threat. So why raise rates?

The answer, as best I can make it out, is that the organization believes that we must worry about the chance that markets might start expecting inflation, even though they shouldn’t and currently don’t: We must guard against “the possibility that longer-term inflation expectations could become unanchored in the O.E.C.D. economies, contrary to what is assumed in the central projection.”