The background is that Michael Kinsley wrote a particularly bad column last week about "austerity," a key point of which was based on factually incorrect memories of what went wrong in the 1970s; as you can imagine, this earned him plenty of corrections and dismissals from people who used access to accurate economic and government policy statistics.
Kinsley was quite taken aback by this, apparently, and wrote a follow up to defend himself. Dan Drezner has already pointed out that Kinsley is still relying on the same inaccurate memories that got his first column into trouble, but I actually found a different part of Kinsley II more interesting, in which he thinks he's caught Paul Krugman in a contradiction.
Paul Krugman takes credit for good economic news whenever it happens. On Krugman’s blog site (“The Conscience of a Liberal”) last week were two bits of prose side-by-side. One was an ad for his latest book, End This Depression Now! “How bad have things gotten?” the ad asks rhetorically.” How did we get stuck in what now can only be called a depression?” Right next door is Krugman’s gloat about the recent pretty-good economic news. “So where are the celebrations,” he asks, “now that the debt issue looks, if not solved, at least greatly mitigated?” Greatly mitigated? By what? Certainly not by anyone taking Paul Krugman’s advice. He has been, in his own self-estimate, a lone, ignored voice for reason crying out in an unreasoning universe.
What's the problem? The linked post by Krugman isn't a gloat about good economic news! It is, to be sure a gloat; it's a gloat about deficits...Krugman goes so far as to call lower deficits "progress," although as I read it he's really just saying that lower deficits should be counted as progress from the point of view of the deficit scolds.
What's happening here is that Kinsley is projecting onto Krugman a classic deficit scold mistake; Kinsley is conflating the federal budget deficit with the economy. Krugman isn't doing that; it's purely Kinsley's invention.
It gets, however, to exactly why Kinsley was buried under a large pile of abuse after his first column. Well, in part; the other part, as Krugman notes elsewhere, is "the existence now of a policy blogosphere...which makes bluffing harder." Say something factually inaccurate these days, and you're going to get slammed; it seems that some pundits who preceded that development find it hard to get used to it.
But the other part is conflating the federal budget deficit and the economy is really a pretty big deal. It might even explain, by the way, Kinsley's faulty memories of the 1970s; if bad economic times are synonymous with large budget deficits, then there "must" have been deficits back then. It's less of a argument about deficits causing bad times than a tautology about deficits meaning bad times.
And the problem is that outside the myopia of deficit scolds, there are real policy choices about fiscal policy. Which are extremely difficult to make well when a large part of the political culture is trapped inside, well, deficit nonsense.