Paul Krugman is at his best in yesterday's article – explaining real world economics in understandable ways. His article talks about how we can get out of this recession, and his analysis is not encouraging. Here is a nice passage that would be very helpful in an introductory macro class:
So will our slump go on forever? No. In fact, the seeds of eventual recovery are already being planted.
Consider housing starts, which have fallen to their lowest level in 50 years. That's bad news for the near term. It means that spending on construction will fall even more. But it also means that the supply of houses is lagging behind population growth, which will eventually prompt a housing revival.
Or consider the plunge in auto sales. Again, that's bad news for the near term. But at current sales rates, as the finance blog Calculated Risk points out, it would take about 27 years to replace the existing stock of vehicles. Most cars will be junked long before that, either because they've worn out or because they've become obsolete, so we're building up a pent-up demand for cars.
The same story can be told for durable goods and assets throughout the economy: given time, the current slump will end itself, the way slumps did in the 19th century. As I said, this may be your great-great-grandfather's recession. But recovery may be a long time coming.
David Brooks, on the other hand, in the aptly titled "Money for Idiots," makes the case for government intervention, and explicitly addresses the moral hazard problem involved with bailing people out when their problems are the result of bad choices:
The stimulus package handed tens of billions of dollars to states that spent profligately during the prosperity years. The Obama housing plan will force people who bought sensible homes to subsidize the mortgages of people who bought houses they could not afford. It will almost certainly force people who were honest on their loan forms to subsidize people who were dishonest on theirs.
These oscillations are the real moral hazard. Individual responsibility doesn't mean much in an economy like this one. We all know people who have been laid off through no fault of their own. The responsible have been punished along with the profligate.
It makes sense for the government to intervene to try to reduce the oscillation. It makes sense for government to try to restore some communal order. And the sad reality is that in these circumstances government has to spend money on precisely those sectors that have been swinging most wildly — housing, finance, etc. It has to help stabilize people who have been idiots.
I do not have much confidence in my own understanding of the macroeconomics involved, but it seems to me that the issues in these two articles are central to understanding the times we are in.