Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Keynesianism’

Nancy Pelosi was rightly mocked for her nonsensical assertion that subsidizing unemployment is the best way to stimulate the economy.  Unfortunately, as we pointed out at the time, such claims reflect nothing more than standard Keynesian economics as understood by so many politicians.  Now Sherrod Brown’s saying the same thing:

“Congressman Cantor (R-VA) either failed English class or failed logic class or failed history class because these tax cuts for the rich that Bush did twice, in ’01 and ’03, resulted in very little economic growth. We saw only one million jobs created in the Bush years, 22 million created in the Clinton years when we reached a balanced budget with a fairer tax system,” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said on MSNBC.

“There is no real history illustrating that these tax cuts for the rich result in jobs. It’s extending unemployment benefits that creates economic activity that creates jobs, not giving a millionaire an extra ten or twenty or $30,000 in tax cuts that they likely won’t spend,” Brown said.

It’s easy to scoff once again at the silly notion that subsidizing unemployment “creates economic activity that creates jobs.” There are reasonable humanitarian arguments for some form of safety-net, sure, but there’s no pro-growth argument for extended unemployment benefits. But there’s a lot still to untangle here.

First, the  Bush era tax cuts were an amalgamation of a number of different approaches, including both a lot of gimmick handouts and a few good supply-side cuts. We know the gimmicky rebates in 2001 didn’t do anything, just as they didn’t when both Bush and Obama tried them again in 2008 and 2009, but that’s also the type of policy Sherrod implies he would support when he articulates, by scoffing at the “tax cuts that they likely won’t spend,” the common misconception that the benefit of low tax rates comes in the form of increased consumer spending (our latest video can explain more fully the fallacy of this Keynesian approach).

The 2003 cuts, on the other hand, contained some better policies, such as lower marginal tax rates on income and reductions in the capitals gains tax. The benefits from these lower rates comes not from increased consumer spending, but because they reduce barriers on saving and investing.

Due to the nature of their earnings, taxes on the so-called rich are more often than not taxes on capital, which slows economic growth because capital is the lifeblood of a capitalist economy. The rich, moreover, can more easily determine the manner and timing of their income, which makes them more responsive to marginal tax rates than other brackets. High tax rates on anyone is bad, but there are few faster ways to drown an economy than trying to “soak the rich.” This is why it is imperative that we not raise those rates now, or ever.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

I’m understandably fond of my video exposing the flaws of Keynesian stimulus theory, but I think my former intern has a great contribution to the debate with this new 5-minute mini-documentary.

You may recognize Hiwa. She narrated a very popular video earlier this year on the nightmare of income-tax complexity.

Read Full Post »

Former Senator Phil Gramm had a column last week in the Wall Street Journal that deserves two blog posts. This first post highlights Gramm’s analysis showing that the U.S. has been very Keynesian compared to Europe, with numerous efforts to jump start the economy with deficit spending. But Senator Gramm hits the nail on the head, comparing America’s tepid recovery with the better performance across the Atlantic.

During the average recovery since World War II, gross domestic product (GDP) surpassed the pre-recession high five quarters after the recession began. It has never taken longer than seven quarters. Yet today, after 11 quarters, GDP is still below what it was in the fourth quarter of 2007. The economy is growing at only about a third of the rate of previous postwar recoveries from major recessions.

Obama administration officials such as Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner have argued that without their policies the economy would be worse, and we might have fallen “off a cliff.” While this assertion cannot be tested, we can compare the recent experience of other countries to our own.

…There are 4.6% fewer people employed in the U.S. today than at the start of the recession. Euro zone countries have lost 1.7% of their jobs.

…This simple comparison suggests…that American economic policy has been less effective in increasing employment than the policies of other developed nations. …While the most recent quarterly growth figures are just a snapshot in time, it is hardly encouraging that economic growth in the U.S. (1.7%) is lower than in the euro zone (4%), U.K. (4.8%), G-7 (2.8%) and OECD (2%).

Read Full Post »

Warren Buffett once said that it wasn’t right for his secretary to have a higher tax rate than he faced, leading me to point out that he didn’t understand tax policy. The 15 percent tax rates on dividends and capital gains to which he presumably was referring represents double taxation, and when added to the tax that already was paid on the income he invested (and the tax that one imagines will be imposed on that same income when he dies), it is quite obvious that his effective marginal tax rates is much higher than anything his secretary pays. Though he is right that his secretary’s tax rate is much too high.

Well, it turns out that Warren Buffett also doesn’t understand much about other areas of fiscal policy. Like a lot of ultra-rich liberals who have lost touch with the lives of regular people, he thinks taxpayer anger is misguided. Not only does he scold people for being upset, but he regurgitates the most simplistic Keynesian talking points to justify Obama’s spending spree. Here’s an excerpt from his hometown paper.

Taxpayer anger against President Barack Obama and Congress is counterproductive because policy makers took measures including deficit spending to stimulate the economy, billionaire investor Warren Buffett told CNBC. …“I hope we get over it pretty soon, because it’s not productive,’’ Buffett said. “We will come back regardless of how people feel about Washington, but it is not helpful to have people as unhappy as they are about what’s going on in Washington.” …“The truth is we’re running a federal deficit that’s 9 percent of gross domestic product,” Buffett said. “That’s stimulative as all get out. It’s more stimulative than any policy we’ve followed since World War II.”
About the only positive thing one can say about Buffett’s fiscal policy track record is that he is nowhere close to being the most inaccurate person in the United States, a title that Mark Zandi surely will own for the indefinite future.

Read Full Post »

Not that we need more evidence, but here are two new items confirming the absurdity of thinking that bigger government is stimulus. First, we have a story from Los Angeles revealing that the city only created 55 jobs with $111 million of stimulus funds. This translates to a per-job cost of $2 million, which is a grossly inefficient rate of return. But this calculation is incomplete because it doesn’t measure how many jobs would have been created if the money was left in the productive sector of the economy. Moreover, it’s also important to consider long-term costs such as the fact that Los Angeles now has more overhead, which will exacerbate the city’s fiscal problems.

The Los Angeles City Controller said on Thursday the city’s use of its share of the $800 billion federal stimulus find has been disappointing.

The city received $111 million in stimulus under American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) approved by the Congress more than year ago.

“I’m disappointed that we’ve only created or retained 55 jobs after receiving $111 million,” says Wendy Greuel, the city’s controller, while releasing an audit report.

…The audit says the numbers were disappointing due to bureaucratic red tape, absence of competitive bidding for projects in private sectors, inappropriate tracking of stimulus money and a laxity in bringing out timely job reports.

Our second item is a new study from two scholars who find that the cash-for-clunkers program was a total failure. Just as anybody with an IQ above room temperature could have predicted, the overwhelming effect of the program was to encourage people to change when they purchased cars. There was no long-term positive impact on any economic variable.

A key rationale for fiscal stimulus is to boost consumption when aggregate demand is perceived to be inefficiently low. We examine the ability of the government to increase consumption by evaluating the impact of the 2009 “Cash for Clunkers” program on short and medium run auto purchases. Our empirical strategy exploits variation across U.S. cities in ex-ante exposure to the program as measured by the number of “clunkers” in the city as of the summer of 2008. We find that the program induced the purchase of an additional 360,000 cars in July and August of 2009. However, almost all of the additional purchases under the program were pulled forward from the very near future; the effect of the program on auto purchases is almost completely reversed by as early as March 2010 – only seven months after the program ended. …We also find no evidence of an effect on employment, house prices, or household default rates in cities with higher exposure to the program.

The lesson from the cash-for-clunkers program also can be applied to other temporary programs. Good tax cuts, for instance, become gimmicks when they are temporary. This doesn’t mean there is no positive effect on incentives from a payroll tax holiday, temporary expensing, or a two-year extension of the 2001/2003 tax cuts, but the overwhelming impact is to alter the timing of economic activity rather than the level of economic activity.

Read Full Post »

Alberto Alesina of Harvard’s economics department summarizes some of his research in a column for today’s Wall Street Journal. He and a colleague looked at fiscal policy changes in developed nations and found very strong evidence that spending reductions boost growth. This, of course, contrasts with the lack of evidence for the Keynesian notion that growth is stimulated by a bigger burden of government spending.

Politicians argue for increased stimulus spending, as opposed to spending cuts, on the grounds that it would speed up economic recovery. This argument might have it exactly backward. Indeed, history shows that cutting spending in order to reduce deficits may be the key to promoting economic recovery.

…[R]ecent stimulus packages have proven that the “multiplier”—the effect on GDP per one dollar of increased government spending—is small. Stimulus spending also means that tax increases are coming in the future; such increases will further threaten economic growth.

Economic history shows that even large adjustments in fiscal policy, if based on well-targeted spending cuts, have often led to expansions, not recessions. Fiscal adjustments based on higher taxes, on the other hand, have generally been recessionary.

My colleague Silvia Ardagna and I recently co-authored a paper examining this pattern, as have many studies over the past 20 years. Our paper looks at the 107 large fiscal adjustments—defined as a cyclically adjusted deficit reduction of at least 1.5% in one year—that took place in 21 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries between 1970 and 2007.

…Our results were striking: Over nearly 40 years, expansionary adjustments were based mostly on spending cuts, while recessionary adjustments were based mostly on tax increases.

…In the same paper we also examined years of large fiscal expansions, defined as increases in the cyclically adjusted deficit by at least 1.5% of GDP. Over 91 such cases, we found that tax cuts were much more expansionary than spending increases.

How can spending cuts be expansionary? First, they signal that tax increases will not occur in the future, or that if they do they will be smaller. A credible plan to reduce government outlays significantly changes expectations of future tax liabilities. This, in turn, shifts people’s behavior. Consumers and especially investors are more willing to spend if they expect that spending and taxes will remain limited over a sustained period of time.

On the other hand, fiscal adjustments based on tax increases reduce consumers’ disposable income and reduce incentives for productivity.

…Europe seems to have learned the lessons of the past decades: In fact, all the countries currently adjusting their fiscal policy are focusing on spending cuts, not tax hikes. Yet fiscal policy in the U.S. will sooner or later imply higher taxes if spending is not soon reduced.

The evidence from the last 40 years suggests that spending increases meant to stimulate the economy and tax increases meant to reduce deficits are unlikely to achieve their goals. The opposite combination might.

Alesina’s research echoes the findings in dozens of other studies, a few of which are cited in this Center for Freedom and Prosperity video I narrated.

Read Full Post »

Dana Milbank of the Washington Post wrote this weekend that critics of Keynesianism are somewhat akin to those who believe the earth is flat. He specifically cites the presumably malignant influence of the Cato Institute.

Keynes was right, and in this case it’s probably for the better: Keynes didn’t live to see the Republicans of 2010 portray him as some sort of Marxist revolutionary.

…These men get their economic firepower from conservative think tanks such as the Cato Institute…

What’s with the hate for Maynard?

Perhaps these Republicans don’t realize that some of their tax-cut proposals are as “Keynesian” as Obama’s program. There’s a fierce dispute about how best to respond to the economic crisis — Tax cuts? Deficit spending? Monetary intervention? — but the argument is largely premised on the Keynesian view that government should somehow boost demand in a recession.

…With so much of Keynesian theory universally embraced, Republican denunciation of him has a flat-earth feel to it. …There is an alternative to such “Keynesian experiments,” however. The government could do nothing, and let the human misery continue. By rejecting the “Keynesian playbook,” this is what Republicans are really proposing.

Milbank makes some good points, particularly when noting the hypocrisy of Republicans. Bush’s 2001 tax cuts were largely Keynesian in their design, which is also one of the reasons why the economy was sluggish until the supply-side tax cuts were implemented in 2003. Bush also pushed through another Keynesian package in 2008, and many GOPers on Capitol Hill often erroneously use Keynesian logic even when talking about good policies such as lower marginal tax rates.

But the thrust of Milbank’s column is wrong. He is wrong in claiming that Keynesian economics works, and he is wrong is claming that it is the only option. Regarding the first point, there is no successful example of Keynesian economics. It didn’t work for Hoover and Roosevelt in the 1930s. It didn’t work for Japan in the 1990s. It didn’t work for Bush in 2001 or 2008, and it didn’t work for Obama. The reason, as explained in this video, is that Keynesian economics seeks to transform saving into consumption. But a recession or depression exists when national income is falling. Shifting how some of that income is used does not solve the problem.

This is why free market policies are the best response to an economic downturn. Lower marginal tax rates. Reductions in the burden of government spending. Eliminating needless regulations and red tape. Getting rid of trade barriers. These are the policies that work when the economy is weak. But they’re also desirable policies when the economy is strong. In other words, there is no magic formula for dealing with a downturn. But there are policies that improve the economy’s performance, regardless of short-term economic conditions. Equally important, supporters of economic liberalization also point out that misguided government policies (especially bad monetary policy by the Federal Reserve) almost always are responsible for causing downturns. And wouldn’t it be better to adopt reforms that prevent downturns rather than engage in futile stimulus schemes once downturns begin?

None of this means that Keynes was a bad economist. Indeed, it’s very important to draw a distinction between Keynes, who was wrong on a couple of things, and today’s Keynesians, who are wrong about almost everything. Keynes, for instance, was an early proponent of the Laffer Curve, writing that, “Nor should the argument seem strange that taxation may be so high as to defeat its object, and that, given sufficient time to gather the fruits, a reduction of taxation will run a better chance than an increase of balancing the budget.”

Keynes also seemed to understand the importance of limiting the size of government. He wrote that, “25 percent taxation is about the limit of what is easily borne.” It’s not clear whether he was referring to marginal tax rates or the tax burden as a share of economic output, but in either case it obviously implies an upper limit to the size of government (especially since he did not believe in permanent deficits).

If modern Keynesians had the same insights, government policy today would not be nearly as destructive.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: