Fed Austerity Dissenters Believe That They Are Entitled to Their Own Facts
Policy Proposals to Boost Employment in Obama's 2010 State of the Union Address

Hoisted from Mark Thoma's Archives: Clarida and DeLong on Fiscal (and Monetary) Policy

From March 16, 2009:

Economist's View: Clarida and DeLong on Fiscal Policy: Two views on fiscal policy from Brad DeLong and Richard Clarida. First, Clarida who has doubts about fiscal policy (and he isn't so sure about monetary policy either), then DeLong who, like me, is more supportive of fiscal policy efforts. Richard Clarida:

A lot of bucks, but how much bang?, by Richard Clarida, Vox EU: “We have involved ourselves in a colossal muddle, having blundered in control of a delicate machine, the workings of which we do not understand” - John Maynard Keynes, “The Great Slump of 1930”, published December 1930…. [T]here are, at last, a ‘lot of bucks’ now committed by policymakers to address the global recession and the global financial crisis, but there is real doubt about how much ‘bang’ we can expect from these bucks.

In the US, President Obama has just signed a nearly 800 billion dollar stimulus package and the Fed has cut the Federal Funds rate to zero…. To date, however, these traditional policies have been insufficient for the scale and scope of the task…. The Obama package includes tax cuts and credits that will provide a boost to disposable income, but how much of these will be spent rather than saved or used to pay down debt? The package also includes a substantial increase in infrastructure spending, as well as transfers to the states, but the infrastructure spending is back-loaded to 2010 and later, and the transfers to states will most likely just enable states to maintain public employment, not expand it appreciably…. Because of the severe damage to the system of credit intermediation through banks and securitisation, policy multipliers are likely to be disappointingly small compared with historical estimates of their importance…. Historically, multipliers on government spending are estimated to be in the range of 1.5 to 2, while multipliers for tax cuts can be much smaller, say 0.5 to 1. But these estimates are from periods when households could – and did – use tax cuts as a down payment on a car or to cover the closing costs on a mortgage refinance…. With the credit markets impaired, tax cuts and income earned from government spending on goods and services will not be leveraged by the financial system to nearly such an extent, resulting in (much) smaller multipliers…. Even if the global financial system soon restores some semblance of order and function, the collapse in global equity and housing market values has so impaired household wealth that private consumption (which represents 60% to 70% of GDP in G7 countries) is likely to lag – not lead – economic growth for some time….

So where does this leave us? A LOT is riding on the efforts of the Fed and other central banks to stabilise the financial system and restore the flow of credit. Officials recognising these challenges are now seriously considering “non-traditional” policies that combine monetary and fiscal elements…. Altogether, between the MBS, CPFF, and TALF programs, the Fed is committing nearly 2 trillion dollars of financing to the private sector. While these sums may be necessary to prevent an outright economic collapse that extends and deepens into 2011 and beyond, it is not clear to me that they are sufficient to turn the economy around so that it returns to robust growth…. If actions taken by the administration, the Congress, and the Federal Reserve are successful in restoring some measure of financial stability – and only if that is the case, in my view – there is a reasonable prospect that the current recession will end in 2009 and that 2010 will be a year of recovery…. I am casting aside the contrary evidence and putting my ‘bucks’ on the Fed. But it is a close call.

Next, Brad DeLong:

My favourite line from Jaws is uttered police chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) when he finally sees the shark: “You are going to need a bigger boat.” We are at last seeing the shape of this downturn – and we are going to need a bigger fiscal stimulus than the deficit-spending package President Barack Obama pushed through the US Congress in February…. [F]our months from now we are going to want to do another round of government spending boosts and tax cuts to try to keep the unemployment rate from rising too much higher and capacity utilisation from falling too much lower. (And the legislative calendar means that we should start thinking about laying the groundwork for such a second round of stimulus right now; in order to be in the budget reconciliation bill that will pass the congress in August, provision for fiscal stimulus must be in the budget resolution that will pass the congress in April.) Moreover, if the next four months are months of worse-than-expected bad news – well, let’s not go there right now.

Getting another round of spending boosts and tax cuts will, however, be problematic….

[A]s we get ready to try to go and buy a bigger fiscal stimulus boat to deal with this Jaws recession, whose bite pushed the unemployment rate up to 8.1% in February, it is important to be clear why we ought to be doing this. And the first point that needs to be made is that the strange right-wing talking point that a government fiscal boost would not spur the economy because... because... well, it's not sure why... is badly mistaken at best and disingenuous at worst. But there are legitimate reasons to fear…. I classify these legitimate fears into four groups.

  1. Bottleneck-driven inflation. The fear is that although more deficit spending will increase total spending, and although businesses seeing increased demand for their products will indeed try to hire more workers to boost production, they will succeed only by offering their new workers higher wages – wages higher enough that they then have to boost their prices – and by snatching scarce commodities out of the supply chain by paying more and then having to boost their prices more as well….

  2. Capital flight-driven inflation. The fear is that the stimulus package will cause foreign holders of domestic bonds to believe that inflation is on the way and trigger a mass sell-off of US Treasuries and other dollar-denominated assets that will push the value of the dollar down. And as the value of the dollar falls, the dollar prices of imported goods and services rise – and we are off to the inflation races once again.

  3. Crowding-out of investment spending. The fear is that additional government borrowing may – not will, not must, but may, for this is a fear not a certainty – push up interest rates, make financing expansion even more expensive for businesses, and so discourage private investment. The boost to spending would thus come at a high cost-benefit ratio….

  4. Reaching the limits of debt capacity. The fear is that the long-term costs of additional fiscal boosts via deficit spending will be very large because those from whom the US government will have to borrow the money to finance spending will only loan it on lousy terms….

All of these are legitimate fears when a government undertakes a deficit-spending plan…. These four fears are all legitimate fears, but I believe that we, here, now do not need to fear them. In each of the cases in which these fears are legitimate, we can see in advance that the stimulus program is going wrong. Stimulus packages produce increases in nominal but not real demand when exchange rates fall and prices rise; we can watch the exchange rates fall and the prices rise, and we can watch as financial markets anticipate these events beforehand. Stimulus packages crowd-out private investment when the government’s borrowing causes medium-term interest rates on corporate borrowings to rise. Stimulus packages impose a heavy financing burden on the government when they cause long-term interest rates on government securities to rise….

Right now, however, we see none of these things. No signs of bottleneck-driven or wage-push inflation gathering force. No signs of approaching rapid dollar depreciation. No signs that the stimulus is pushing up medium-term interest rates on corporate borrowing. No signs that the stimulus is pushing up long-term interest rates on government bonds.

If any of these start to materialise, expect me and a number of other stimulus advocates to start backpedalling rapidly. But so far, so good.

Comments