How to Kill a Recovery : We’re still near the bottom of a very deep hole, but at least we’re climbing. It’s too bad that so many people, mainly on the political right, want to send us sliding right back down again....
The clear and present danger to recovery... comes from politics — specifically, the demand from House Republicans that the government immediately slash spending on infant nutrition, disease control, clean water and more. Quite aside from their negative long-run consequences, these cuts would lead, directly and indirectly, to the elimination of hundreds of thousands of jobs — and this could short-circuit the virtuous circle of rising incomes and improving finances. Of course, Republicans believe, or at least pretend to believe, that the direct job-destroying effects of their proposals would be more than offset by a rise in business confidence. As I like to put it, they believe that the Confidence Fairy will make everything all right.
But there’s no reason for the rest of us to share that belief. For one thing, it’s hard to see how such an obviously irresponsible plan — since when does starving the I.R.S. for funds help reduce the deficit? — can improve confidence.
Beyond that, we have a lot of evidence from other countries about the prospects for “expansionary austerity” — and that evidence is all negative. Last October, a comprehensive study by the International Monetary Fund concluded that “the idea that fiscal austerity stimulates economic activity in the short term finds little support in the data.” And do you remember the lavish praise heaped on Britain’s conservative government, which announced harsh austerity measures after it took office last May? How’s that going? Well, business confidence did not, in fact, rise when the plan was announced; it plunged, and has yet to recover. And recent surveys suggest that confidence has fallen even further among both businesses and consumers, indicating, as one report put it, that the private sector is “unprepared to fill the hole left by public sector cuts.”
Which brings us back to the U.S. budget debate.
Over the next few weeks, House Republicans will try to blackmail the Obama administration into accepting their proposed spending cuts, using the threat of a government shutdown. They’ll claim that those cuts would be good for America in both the short term and the long term.
But the truth is exactly the reverse: Republicans have managed to come up with spending cuts that would do double duty, both undermining America’s future and threatening to abort a nascent economic recovery.