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Jared Bernstein's Stagnant Economy Blogging: What We Have Here Is a Failure of Intellect

Jared Bernstein:

Stuck at Zero: I’ve pretty much stopped writing posts exhorting policy makers to engage in deficit-financed fiscal stimulus, not because we no longer need it—we do—but because it feels like a waste of time.  With the fading of the Recovery Act along with state and local budget cuts, US fiscal policy has turned contractionary…. [i]t’s still a slog, gas prices are pushing the other way, housing remains in the tank (more on that in a later post), joblessness is still highly elevated, with 40% of the unemployed stuck in joblessness for at least six months (before the Great Recession, the average share of the long-term unemployed was about 15%).

But I’m going to briefly drag this critique out of hiding for two reasons.  First, there’s been a spate of research on the bang from fiscal stimulus when monetary policy is “at the zero lower bound” (ZLB)…. [S]econd, because Europe is providing such a sad, natural experiment of this thesis. On the first point, the ZLB is important because once the nominal interest rate that the Fed sets—the Federal Funds rate—is at zero, they can’t take it down further, even if weak growth and high unemployment suggest they should.  DeLong and Summers have a new paper that takes 52 pages and lots of Greek letters to prove that fiscal stimulus is particularly helpful in this situation and not particularly costly either…. These dynamics have been known since Keynes but have been forgotten, so good for Brad and Larry, but if Paul K’s relentless flogging of the point hasn’t broken through, I fear nothing will.

There’s been a lot of debate about the magnitude of fiscal multipliers…. In normal times, the Feds can raise rates to offset the extra spending, or government borrowing can crowd out private borrowing, but at the zero bound, that’s not the case, and that means the fiscal multiplier is larger. Researchers at Goldman have some careful new work which derives the magnitude of the multiplier under different degrees of the lower bound.  The “mild” case is a ZLB that doesn’t last for too long and while the short-term rate is stuck at zero, longer term rates can still come down (which helps to offset the demand contraction).  The “severe” case is generally what we’ve been dealing with…. The figure, which simulates a 1% of GDP fiscal contraction (so reverse the signs for a stimulus) shows large multipliers after a few years of between 2-4.

Stuck at Zero | Jared Bernstein | On the Economy

Still not convinced?  Then let’s turn to the second point… Europe.  If the GS findings are ballpark correct, then the UK and EU’s fiscal consolidations should be contractionary, recessionary, and inducing of higher unemployment.  Voila:

Stuck at Zero | Jared Bernstein | On the Economy 1

Like I said, on this side of the pond we’re busy debating the most austere budget in recent memory—the one adopted by House R’s—and trying to figure out how to stop a planned fiscal train wreck—consolidation of 3.5% of GDP—in January of 2013.  So all of this is for naught in the current context.  The reason I raise it at all is because there’s another recession out there somewhere and who knows?  Maybe by then we’ll be ready to relearn old lessons and get this right next time.

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