Speaking in UAE, the world's third-largest oil exporter, Krugman said Japan's solution of export-led growth would not work because the downturn has been global.That's an important point. Critics of meaningful measures to deal with global warming have focused on the costs of dealing with the problem. These costs are often overstated, and the people making this argument seem to underestimate the ability of market economies to adjust to the changes in relative prices that would be induced by cap-and-trade or carbon tax measures. Part of that adjustment will involve replacing some of the capital stock - from air conditioners to power plants - with more efficient equipment. A policy that credibly commits to raising the relative price of carbon in the future therefore could increase demand today. In the Keynesian model, this would shift the investment demand function, which would also shift aggregate demand, and help close the output gap.
"In some sense we may be past the worst but there is a big difference between stabilizing and actually making up the lost ground," he said.
"We have averted utter catastrophe, but how do we get real recovery?
"We can't all export our way to recovery. There's no other planet to trade with. So the road Japan took is not available to us all," Krugman said.
Global recovery could come about through more investment by major corporations, the emergence of a major technological innovation to match the IT revolution of the 1990s or government moves on climate change.
"Legislation that will establish a cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gases' emissions is moving forward," he said, referring to the U.S. Congress."When the Europeans probably follow suit, and the Japanese, and negotiations begin with developing countries to work them into the system, that will provide enormous incentive for businesses to start investing and prepare for the new regime on emissions... But that's a hope, that's not a certainty."
Particularly the midst of a global slump, the need to create jobs provides an argument in favor of taking serious action on global warming now.
As for the actual legislation moving through congress, the Waxman-Markey bill, Krugman sees it as a step in the right direction, but The Economist is disappointed.
(Krugman's reference to Japan is to the export growth which helped get it out of its 1990s slump; as I noted recently, its reliance on foreign demand is getting it in trouble again now).