Monday, 1 November 2010

Jeff Miron and John Taylor on the stimulus package in the US

In the current issue of The Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy an article by Jeffrey Miron makes The Case Against the Fiscal Stimulus. He concludes by saying:
A few weeks after President Obama’s victory in the 2008 election, adviser Rahm Emanuel quipped that “[y]ou never want a serious crisis to go to waste . . . [because it] provides the
opportunity for us to do things that you could not do before.” Emanuel was correct: The situation in which the new Administration found itself constituted an unusual political dynamic that, properly used, would have allowed the Obama Administration both to stimulate the economy and make it more productive over the long haul.

The Administration should have endorsed a stimulus package based on a repeal of the corporate income tax and reductions in employment taxes. This policy would have accomplished its stated goals, and the budgetary implications would have been less negative than those of the package ultimately adopted because this alternative plan would have enhanced rather than detracted from economic efficiency. This approach would also have been difficult for Republicans to oppose.

Yet the Administration did not take this approach, presumably because its true goals were not just economic stimulus. Instead, the Administration wanted to reward its constituencies (unions, environmentalists, public education) and increase the size and scope of government. This tactic is consistent with the Administration’s policies in general. Across the board, it has taken a big government, redistributionist approach, whether regarding housing, unions, health, the auto industry, trade, antitrust,or financial regulation. The Administration’s view appears to be that government is better than individuals at deciding how taxpayers get to spend their money and that government should engineer large transfers from richer to poorer.

Whether the Administration’s stimulus package will be successful is still to be determined. If the extra spending ends up being productive, then the impact of the stimulus might be positive on net. My own prediction, however, is that the programs adopted will generate large distortions and substantial waste, with minor stimulus impact. This is a pity because much better alternatives were available.
In other words politics bets economics every time. Payback to those who supported you in your battle to get power is important if you wish to keep power. Obama has one more election to fight and he needs the support of the unions, the environmentalists and the public education sector to win it, hence he has to give them something to keep them on side. The actual effects on the economy may well be of lesser importance.

Note that over at the Economics One blog, John Taylor gives More Evidence on Why the Stimulus Didn't Work. Taylor and John Cogan have been looking at the impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA).

It is necessary to know that that

change in GDP =(government purchases multiplier) times (change in government purchases).

Taylor writes,
But few have focused on the second term in the above multiplier formula: the change in government purchases due to ARRA. John Cogan and I have been tracking data on the changes in government purchases since ARRA was passed, using a new data series provided by the Commerce Department. We just finished a working paper reporting the details of our findings, which provide additional evidence that the stimulus has not worked and, just as important, on why it has not worked.

Despite the gigantic $862 billion stimulus package, the change in government purchases due to ARRA has been immaterial to the economic recovery: government purchases increased by only 2 percent of the $862 billion package ($18 billion). Infrastructure was even less at $2.4 billion. There has been almost no change in government purchases for the multiplier to multiply. It’s no wonder people don’t think the stimulus worked. And the size of the multiplier is largely irrelevant!
The dog that didn't bark in the night or the stimulus that didn't stimulate.

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