Bad Policy, Bad Politics- Part 1

Monday Business Edition

Crossposted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

Economy Faces a Jolt as Benefit Checks Run Out

By MOTOKO RICH, The New York Times

Published: July 10, 2011

Close to $2 of every $10 that went into Americans’ wallets last year were payments like jobless benefits, food stamps, Social Security and disability, according to an analysis by Moody’s Analytics. In states hit hard by the downturn, like Arizona, Florida, Michigan and Ohio, residents derived even more of their income from the government.

By the end of this year, however, many of those dollars are going to disappear, with the expiration of extended benefits intended to help people cope with the lingering effects of the recession. Moody’s Analytics estimates $37 billion will be drained from the nation’s pocketbooks this year.

“If we don’t get more job growth and gains in wages and salaries, then consumers just aren’t going to have the firepower to spend, and the economy is going to weaken,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics, a macroeconomic consulting firm.

Job growth has remained elusive. There are 4.6 unemployed workers for every opening, according to the Labor Department, and Friday’s unemployment report showed that employers added an anemic 18,000 jobs in June.

Consumers account for an estimated 60 to 70 percent of the country’s economic activity, but two years into the official recovery, businesses are still complaining that people simply are not spending enough.

Because benefit payments tend to be spent right away to cover basic needs like food and rent, they provide a direct boost to consumer spending. In a study for the Labor Department, Wayne Vroman, an economist at the Urban Institute, estimated that every $1 paid in jobless benefits generated as much as $2 in the economy.

Government Aid Dissipating, Damaging Economic Performance

By: David Dayen, Firedog Lake

Monday July 11, 2011 6:55 am

The Times story tells a simple tale, one rooted in elementary macroeconomic theory, and one which has escaped everyone in Washington. If you reduce benefits on those who have the highest propensity to spend money, that money gets taken out of the economy, and GDP suffers. And GDP has a direct bearing on unemployment. Our automatic stabilizers actually worked decently during the Great Recession. In fact, most of the stimulus went to tax cuts and beefing up those stabilizers, through aid to states and expanded benefits (in fact, too much so, as public investment in jobs was barely a sliver of the total stimulus). No doubt Republicans will see this article as some evidence of lazy Americans living on the dole, but it’s a direct result of an intelligently designed system to provide a safety net when the bottom drops out of the economy.

Herr Doktor Professor

Regular readers of this blog know that I make a big deal of the failure of interest rates to rise despite massive government borrowing. There’s a reason for that: what happens to interest rates is a key indicator of which economic model, and hence which economic policies, are right.

The Very Serious position has been that government borrowing will drive up rates, crowd out private investment, and impede recovery. A Keynes-Hicks analysis, by contrast, says that when you’re in a liquidity trap, even large government borrowing won’t drive up rates – and hence won’t crowd out private investment. In fact, it will promote private investment by raising capacity utilization and giving firms more reason to expand.

What we usually get in response to this seemingly decisive data are a series of excuses – most recently, that rates were low because the Fed was buying all the bonds. Well, that program has ended, and interest rates are still low.

More Herr Doktor Professor on excuses

The fact is, the United States economy has been stuck in a rut for a year and a half.

The truth is that creating jobs in a depressed economy is something government could and should be doing.

Our failure to create jobs is a choice, not a necessity – a choice rationalized by an ever-shifting set of excuses.

Excuse No. 1: Just around the corner, there’s a rainbow in the sky.

  • Remember “green shoots”? Remember the “summer of recovery”? Policy makers keep declaring that the economy is on the mend – and Lucy keeps snatching the football away. Yet these delusions of recovery have been an excuse for doing nothing as the jobs crisis festers.

Excuse No. 2: Fear the bond market.

  • Two years ago The Wall Street Journal declared that interest rates on United States debt would soon soar unless Washington stopped trying to fight the economic slump. Ever since, warnings about the imminent attack of the “bond vigilantes” have been used to attack any spending on job creation.

    But basic economics said that rates would stay low as long as the economy was depressed – and basic economics was right. The interest rate on 10-year bonds was 3.7 percent when The Wall Street Journal issued that warning; at the end of last week it was 3.03 percent.

Excuse No. 3: It’s the workers’ fault.

  • (I)f there really was a mismatch between the workers we have and the workers we need, workers who do have the right skills, and are therefore able to find jobs, should be getting big wage increases. They aren’t. In fact, average wages actually fell last month.

Excuse No. 4: We tried to stimulate the economy, and it didn’t work.

  • Everybody knows that President Obama tried to stimulate the economy with a huge increase in government spending, and that it didn’t work. But what everyone knows is wrong.

    What happened to the stimulus? Much of it consisted of tax cuts, not spending. Most of the rest consisted either of aid to distressed families or aid to hard-pressed state and local governments. This aid may have mitigated the slump, but it wasn’t the kind of job-creation program we could and should have had. This isn’t 20-20 hindsight: some of us warned from the beginning that tax cuts would be ineffective and that the proposed spending was woefully inadequate. And so it proved.

Neoliberal Economics has as much credibility as Stalinist Genetics.


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