Does the Economy Need More Spending Now?

In today’s Wall Street Journal the economist Alan Blinder writes, “The Economy Needs More Spending Now”, that the tax hikes and spending cuts agreed to in January and before are reducing GDP growth by 1.5% – 2% annually.  Mr. Blinder claims that it would be easy to design a new fiscal stimulus package that adds 2% to GDP per year as long as it lasts.  He also claims that a fundamental change like tax reform might only add a much smaller .2% to GDP per year although this much smaller annual effect would repeat indefinitely and therefore eventually amount to a large cumulative effect.  This is a sensible argument as far as it goes but is incomplete.
In the last five years there has been almost $6 trillion in (deficit) stimulus spending, coupled with a $3 trillion quantitative easing program by the Federal Reserve.  This represents an unprecedented fiscal and monetary stimulus to the economy by the federal government.  And the result has been a tepid although steady 2% annual growth in GDP, much slower than usually follows a recession.
After all of this enormous stimulus, which is having only a meager effect, what makes more sense:  to try even more stimulus or to try something different?  What else is there to try?  Immigration reform will boost the economy by drawing our 11,000,000 illegal immigrants into the main stream economy.  Note that citizenship (amnesty) is not required to accomplish this, only legal status.  Also, requiring many people receiving welfare (food stamps, disability benefits, etc.) to work would boost the economy by increasing the size of the labor force.
Broad based tax reform, greatly curtailing most, if not all, tax preferences, would be so attractive that it should not be put on a back burner, as Mr. Blinder suggests.  In fact, completely repealing the ACA’s Employer Mandate, now that it’s been postponed for a year, would give a big boost to many medium sized companies for which required health insurance is a big impediment to growth.
The point is that there are many ways to boost the economy besides even more artificial deficit stimulus, whose effect would be at most temporary anyway, as Mr. Blinder suggests.  It really is important to shrink our still very large annual deficits down to zero fairly quickly so that we stop adding to the huge burden which we have already placed on future generations.  In other words, we can likely have stronger economic growth and fiscal restraint at the same time, the best of all possible worlds!

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