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!

Fiscal Fixes for the Jobless Recovery

 

The economist Alan Blinder has a column in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal entitled “Fiscal Fixes for the Jobless Recovery” where he deplores the apparent complacency about our stubbornly high unemployment rate of 7.6% after four years now of recovery from the Great Recession.  His solutions: 1) boost government employment with greater deficit spending, 2) offer businesses a tax credit equal to 10% of the increase of their wage bills over the previous year, and 3) offset the high 35% corporate tax rate by taxing a company’s repatriated profits at a super low rate, based on the increase of its wage payroll.
What Mr. Blinder describes as complacency about the high unemployment rate is rather just huge frustration about the likelihood of a divided Congress being able to reach agreement on any fundamental reforms which would be able to boost economic growth.  His proposals illustrate why the philosophical chasm between the two political parties is so great.  In the first place, boosting government employment by increasing deficit spending is a total nonstarter.  Our enormous and rapidly increasing national debt is a major part of the problem.  We need to decrease government spending, not increase it.
We need to simplify the tax code, not make it more complicated with a new 10% tax credit.  Lowering tax rates overall, offset by eliminating special tax preferences for the well connected, is the type of fundamental reform which will truly boost the economy, by giving everyone the same greater opportunity to create wealth.
Since Republicans think that a 35% corporate tax rate is too high and Democrats think that too many companies are able to shelter their profits abroad, then why can’t we just lower the rate and change the rules to the point where multinational corporations will want to bring their profits home, pay taxes and reinvest in America.  A new tax credit just makes things more complicated!
What is needed to break the log-jam is leadership from our elected representatives, not more ideological name calling.  There are practical solutions to our economic and fiscal problems if we simply had more leaders who are focused on finding solutions rather than scoring points on the opposition!