Paul Krugman, a Nobel Prize-winning economist, has taken to advocating a 25 per cent “surcharge” – he refuses to use the more descriptive term of “import tariff” – on goods from China as a way of bringing the Chinese leadership to heel over currency reform. So potentially dangerous and out of character is this idea that when I first read it, I assumed he was being ironic. But sometimes the cleverest of people can also be the most stupid, and he’s now said it so often that you have to believe he’s serious….
What he’s advocating is trade retaliation so extreme that it would make the 1930s look like a stroll in the park. Contrary to Professor Krugman’s naïve assumption that the Chinese would soon cave in and allow their currency to float if confronted by such hard-ball tactics, I am certain that nothing is more guaranteed to produce the opposite response.
Professor Krugman’s suggestion mines a rich seam of populist US thinking and rhetoric which grows ever more vocal and worrying as the recession persists. What makes Krugman and other highly regarded economists who toe the same line so dangerous is that they give intellectual respectability to a fundamentally disreputable idea.
(HT my GMU colleague Tom Hazlett )