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News Stimulus spending (split from cap& trade thread)

  1. Dec 6, 2009 #1
    Stimulus spending (split from "cap& trade" thread)

    Don't worry, Obama can spend $10,000,000,000 per year for 10 years with one hand tied to the tele-prompter.
     
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  3. Dec 6, 2009 #2

    Chalnoth

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    Re: Free speech and cap 'n trade troubles

    Uh, what? Obama has been extraordinarily reluctant to expand spending. He's done some, but not nearly what the economy has required.
     
  4. Dec 6, 2009 #3

    russ_watters

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    Re: Free speech and cap 'n trade troubles

    Uh, what? Obama pushed through the largest "stimulus" we've ever seen. When (until perhaps this past week*) has he ever shown reluctance to spend money? Really, the problem for him was that once he got it passed, he had trouble spending the money as fast as he wanted to!

    [edit] *Or is that what you mean - he's been "extrordinarily reluctant" to expand spending more than the trillion dollars he's already expanded it this year?
     
  5. Dec 6, 2009 #4

    Chalnoth

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    Re: Free speech and cap 'n trade troubles

    What I'm saying is that the amount of stimulus has just not been up to the task. The entire purpose of an economic stimulus is to close the unemployment gap. The amount of stimulus provided only closed the unemployment gap by around 2% or so, but we're looking at around 10% unemployment anyway.

    As a result, we're looking at a number of years of unemployment at around the 10% level. And that is going to do far, far more damage to the national economy than a little bit of extra debt could ever do.
     
  6. Dec 6, 2009 #5

    mheslep

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    Re: Free speech and cap 'n trade troubles

    I'd say it was the type of stimulus that has not been up to the task i.e. spending, not the amount.

    How do you know that?

    It is not a 'little' extra debt, by any standard.
     
  7. Dec 6, 2009 #6
    Re: Free speech and cap 'n trade troubles

    The focus of the stimulus seems to have been "saving or creating" government jobs and tempory construction jobs.
     
  8. Dec 6, 2009 #7

    russ_watters

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    Re: Free speech and cap 'n trade troubles

    No, what you said is that Obama has shown restraint. I countered that by saying what you are calling "restraint" was, in fact, a historically large amount of spending and I don't consider such actions to be showing "restraint".

    Anyway, I agree that the stimulus hasn't been up to the task! It's an impossible and wrong-headed task!
    2% was what Obama claimed he was going to do, but it isn't what he now claims he did. This is a month old, but he was claiming 640,000 jobs created:
    http://money.cnn.com/2009/10/30/news/economy/Stimulus_jobs_created/index.htm

    With a labor force of about 153 million, that's 0.4%
    One of the major problems with the stimulus package was a good fraction of it was not economic stimulus targeted to where it was most needed, but rather economic stimulus targeted to the pet projects and ideological pet causes of those who designed it. Real economic stimulus appeared to me to be a secondary consideration.
     
    Last edited: Dec 6, 2009
  9. Dec 6, 2009 #8

    Chalnoth

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    Re: Free speech and cap 'n trade troubles

    As a fraction of GDP, this is hardly the case. First, the money is to be spent over a period of a few years, so it must be divided by the GDP over those years. Second, just compare it to the last bit of spending that dredged us out of a similar situation: World War II. The spending for World War II topped at around 37% of GDP. As our GDP is around $14.2 trillion, the paltry $550 billion of the stimulus spending comes in at less than 4% of GDP, even if divided by a single year's GDP.

    You may note that I'm ignoring the tax cuts and the bank bailouts, because those are economically very different things.

    Um, if this were true, then your next statement would also be impossible:

    Well, I was perhaps a bit sloppy in my language. The impact of the stimulus hasn't peaked yet (that should come around next year), and I slightly overstated the expected amount (which will be closer to 1.5%). So yes, when you state the case more explicitly, it only makes the case for a stronger stimulus package even better.

    Finally, let me point out that even despite the reckless tax cuts and spending during the Bush years, our debt as a percentage of GDP is nowhere near crisis levels: we have quite a bit of headroom that we can and should exploit to pull us out of this crisis sooner.

    That's not a serious problem. First, I don't think you'd find more than a very small fraction that was put to such projects. Second, economically speaking, it actually doesn't matter very much where the money goes, as long as it enters general circulation. Obviously with any similar proposal, there would be a fair amount of waste. But this doesn't actually negatively impact the short-term economic outlook, so it's not really a valid reason to oppose such legislation.
     
  10. Dec 6, 2009 #9

    mheslep

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    Re: Free speech and cap 'n trade troubles

    All of the debt is economically identical. Regardless of the source of the deficit that accumulated it, the consequence is identical.
     
  11. Dec 6, 2009 #10
    Re: Free speech and cap 'n trade troubles

    Economic stimulus has historically never worked. That is why the European countries refused to try it when President Obama requested they enact stimulus of their own economies, because they have experience with it causing inflation.

    Regarding WWII, that too is debatable. We had a high unemployment rate, but then we sent a massive portion of our workforce over to fight the war. As women and those not sent took up the jobs, the unemployment rate came down.

    Once WWII was ended, we had no real economic competitor. The British went and nationalized a bunch of industries, which proved disastrous, and Europe and Japan were busy recovering and re-building.

    Also, because the birthrate had declined during the Depression, there was now a more limited supply of workers who were in very high demand by industry, which helped keep wages up.

    So the U.S. economy dominated through the 1950s, then stalled when the 1960s (due to foreign competition finally beginning to surface, taxes that were too high, and so forth).

    If you want to spend like World War II, that would mean a stimulus of something like $3 to $4 trillion, and I would not hand $3 to $4 trillion to politicians who love to spend money and expect accountability. You'd have money going to every pork project and special interest you can think of, along with massive lobbying on Capitol Hill (both of these occurred with the current stimulus).

    Government is too slow, and too inefficient, at spending the money.

    Also, paying down the debt would be tougher. After WWII, we didn't have Medicare and Medicaid, welfare, or as large an interest on the debt, as we have now.

    I wouldn't call the Bush tax cuts "reckless," although I would say the spending was. I know small business owners who were able to hire additional employees precisely because of the Bush tax cuts. As it is, I think taxes are still too high and need to be cut further. Government needs to stop spending so much.

    You make a bill that large, no one knows what is in it because no one has any time to read through it in-depth. You make it in the trillions and people will be even more clueless as to where the money is going. Just not a good idea.

    If money in circulation is good, then why not just suspend income taxes up to the equivalent of the stimulus?
     
  12. Dec 6, 2009 #11

    russ_watters

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    Re: Free speech and cap 'n trade troubles

    Yes, you had to go back 60 years to find the comparison. Again, that doesn't fit my definition of "restraint".

    That said, he's having trouble spending the money as fast as he wants. As of Sept 30, about $173 billion had been spent. And that's another reason we shouldn't get another stimulus.
    Huh? It's pretty straightforward: it isn't doing what he said it would do, therefore it is a failure.

    I don't understand why you think that even though it has produced less than a quarter of the job savings/creation predicted, that means it should be expanded. It isn't working, so you want to do more of it?! How is that logical?
    You didn't misstate Obama's claim - he really did claim that without the stimulus, unemployment would surpass 10% and with it, unemployment would peak around 8%. He was wrong.
    That's so shortsighted. Let me give an example: road paving projects. An awful lot of money went to them because they take very little planning, so they are an easy way to spend money fast. But they are self-contained projects and they end when the stimulus money ends and the people holding the jobs get laid off. A better way to spend stimulus money would be to use it to save jobs in regular businesses. This wouldn't just benefit the employees and businesses in the short term: hiring and firing is expensive and it hurts companies to lay someone off now just to hire someone back in a year.
     
  13. Dec 7, 2009 #12

    mheslep

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    Re: Free speech and cap 'n trade troubles

    There are some good arguments showing that deficit spending does not do well at stimulating economic demand.

    o Recently there was this published on VoxEU, saying the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fiscal_multiplier" [Broken] was as low as 0.5:
    http://www.voxeu.org/index.php?q=node/3373
    [Romer is Obama's economic advisor]

    o And we have the reality coming against Romer's predictions:
    stimulus-vs-unemployment-october-dots.gif

    o Federal spending is now nearly 25% of GDP, not seen since WWII
    9.96_19.28_19.04_18.50_18.35_18.52_19.34_19.84_19.76_20.04_20.28_19.90_21.06_28.07_24.38&legend=.png

    o Total federal, state, and local government spending is now nearly 45% of GDP
    4.79_33.88_33.68_33.19_33.24_34.14_35.56_36.11_35.56_35.68_35.93_35.79_37.40_45.34_42.11&legend=.png
    http://www.usgovernmentspending.com...tack=1&size=m&title=&state=US&color=c&local=s
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  14. Dec 7, 2009 #13

    Chalnoth

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    Re: Free speech and cap 'n trade troubles

    As far as the later payments required on said debt are concerned, yes. But the difference I'm talking about here is in the impact on the current economy, not the future debt load. And the impact of the increased debt on the current economy is markedly different based upon how it is accrued.

    Reduced taxes don't do much to stimulate the economy under the current situation, so you just end up with a net loss. Spending money, on the other hand, puts money into peoples' hands that would otherwise have none, money that they then spend and put back into the economy, and so on and so forth. In the end, this means that you have a lot more people back at work, and the actual debt cost ends up being only around half that which is spent (due to increased returns in taxes). And by being careful about spending that money for projects that are likely to increase future productivity, the added debt isn't a burden at all, but just an investment in the future.

    Please note that the economic case for a stimulus only exists because the nominal interest rate is stuck against the 0% lower bound. If we were not in liquidity trap conditions, then there would be better things that the government could do to stimulate recovery. Those avenues are simply closed due to these conditions.
     
  15. Dec 7, 2009 #14

    Chalnoth

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    Re: Free speech and cap 'n trade troubles

    Well, it's been that long since we've had an economic crisis of similar magnitude. Even then, though, no I didn't have to go that far to find emergency spending beyond what has been done in response to this economic crisis. The Vietnam and Korean wars were also quite a bit larger in cost as a fraction of GDP.

    Try compare to the actual projected targets before claiming it's a "failure". The only way in which it is a "failure" is that the economic downturn was quite a bit worse than predicted.

    That's a pretty silly claim. The entire point of a stimulus is for it to be temporary emergency spending. We want it to be filled with temporary jobs that run out once the stimulus is over, because otherwise we'd be forcing a new long-term spending commitment onto the federal government.

    The whole point of the stimulus is to sort of buoy the economy through the slump. If the stimulus were large enough, it would help the rest of the economy to pick up, which would make more jobs available in the private sector, which would pick up the jobs as the stimulus money runs out.

    But because the stimulus was far too small, it's not looking like there will be any such recovery. The inventory bounce that's buoyed us for the last few months is running out. The stimulus money will also run out before too long. And now, because Obama went for far, far too little for the stimulus, the political will to go for a larger one has been largely eroded. And so we seem to be likely headed for a second dip in the next two years or so, which will only further erode the political will for reasonable forward action.

    In short, we could be seriously stuck for a long time in this slump. We could well be looking for something similar to what happened with Japan in the 1990's, which basically lost an entire decade of economic growth.
     
  16. Dec 7, 2009 #15

    mheslep

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    Re: Free speech and cap 'n trade troubles

    Eh? Certainly one can argue that the economy overall (gdp, investment, jobs, whatever) would differ depending on the manner of spending, but the debt impact is a simple aggregate figure. The interest rate paid to the Chinese T-Bill holder is the same whether the money was spend on bombs or butter.

    Sure they would. The problem is they have to be http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Permanent_income_hypothesis" [Broken].
    [from G.Mankiw]
    http://www.economics.harvard.edu/faculty/alesina/files/Large%2Bchanges%2Bin%2Bfiscal%2Bpolicy_October_2009.pdf [Broken]
    or see http://www.econ.berkeley.edu/~cromer/RomerDraft307.pdf" [Broken] (author of Obama's stimulus plan)


    Spending stimulus is more complicated than that. As stated that assumes a multiplier greater than one. The evidence is increasingly that it is less than one. Think about it, if what you state there were absolutely true governments could simply spend their way into infinite prosperity. In reality, the money spent by the government has to be first taken from the private economy which is where, as the President just stated, the real job engine lies.

    Yes, agreed no more can be done with monetary policy at the moment. The fact that interest rates are as low as they can go does not somehow make the argument that deficit spending works as claimed to stimulate the economy.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  17. Dec 7, 2009 #16

    Chalnoth

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    Re: Free speech and cap 'n trade troubles

    The problem with this analysis is that it completely ignores context. Yes, if your taxes are above a certain point, reducing them can certainly stimulate the economy. But this isn't really the case under the conditions of a liquidity trap, where the problem is a problem of demand, not a problem of supply.

    Spending money, as opposed to simply not taking as much out, directly addresses the problem of insufficient demand by, well, buying things.

    Of course, under conditions other than a liquidity trap, this argument breaks down, and there are other, better ways of dealing with the situation. Spending more money during an already booming economy, for instance, would merely offset existing jobs in the private sector, leading to no net gain in the economy as a whole, but likely a loss of efficiency. So you generally only want to do this sort of things for situations in which private enterprise isn't providing the required need (e.g. roads).

    Yes, actually, it does, because it closes off other means of stimulating the economy, while at the same time making it so that government expenditure won't offset private employment.
     
  18. Dec 7, 2009 #17
    Re: Free speech and cap 'n trade troubles

    They also tried ten separate stimulus packages. Also, cutting taxes puts money directly into the hands of the people, as they get to keep more.

    Some argue this doesn't or won't work because in a recession such as this, people will hoarde the money as opposed to spending it, however if the government simply distributes money to everyone, the same effect would likely happen. If people are going to spend the money, a tax cut guarantees they get it.

    If one makes the argument that since people will not spend the money, that government should spend it instead, well this is based on the idea that government knows how to spend the money, which I wouldn't put much faith in.
     
  19. Dec 7, 2009 #18

    Chalnoth

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    Re: Free speech and cap 'n trade troubles

    Right, which makes it a perfect testing ground for what sort of economic action is the best. The years of strongest growth? Those with the largest stimulus.

    Again, as I said, the difference is that it's a problem of lack of demand, not lack of supply. So the government buying things (e.g. resources to build bridges, roads, whatever) helps to adjust for the lack of demand, boosting the economy.

    On the other hand, simply putting the money in peoples' hands, either through tax rebates or other means, doesn't fix the fact that under these economic conditions, those who have money do best by hoarding it. And the Fed has been trying to do this, by the way, in vast quantities. The money they've put out there hasn't been very successful.

    Nope, that's not part of the argument.

    Basically, it's assumed that the government isn't going to be as efficient in spending the money as private enterprise. This is precisely why the case for an economic stimulus only becomes strong under very specific economic conditions (a liquidity trap). And then the case is only made because it would be as good, for the current economy, to literally pay people to dig ditches then fill them back up as it would to do anything else: precisely how the spending is performed doesn't make much difference to the economy as long as it puts people to work.

    Now, we should be somewhat careful in what we spend because a fair fraction of the money will end up as debt and needs to be paid back. So we want to spend on things that are likely to have a decent return (as opposed to digging ditches and filling them back in). But the nice thing is that under liquidity trap conditions, we expect a 50% return just from increased tax revenues due to the stimulus, so we don't actually need much of a return on investment from the actual projects. Simply getting a bit more than half of our money back from whatever projects are provided by the stimulus, then, would allow us to break even in terms of long-term debt.
     
  20. Dec 7, 2009 #19
    Re: Free speech and cap 'n trade troubles

    You sure about that? I mean if you just pay people to do that, you aren't going to create any economic growth, you're just creating work, but you're getting nothing from it.

    If government can step in and fulfill the role of the consumer by creating demand while there is no consumer demand, provided government can do this successfully, I could see a stimulus working, but just paying people to do the equivalent of dig holes then fill them back up creates nothing. It just provides a safety net for the people. And since it does nothing, one might as well just give the people checks via the mail without having them do anything.

    I think the problem is that the government is not very efficient at spending the money on such projects though, and because the stimulus is so big, and was signed so fast, no one really had time to review exactly where all that money was going to go.

    One thing I am curious about, you say the current stimulus isn't big enough. But the current stimulus has only itself had a fraction of the money spent. It isn't as if they flooded the economy with $787 billion and no effect yet, only a fraction of it has been paid out, and certain of that to creating government jobs. So how do you know it isn't big enough? Even if it was a $10 trillion stimulus, if only a small amount is paid out thus far, I doubt it would make any difference in the economy.
     
  21. Dec 7, 2009 #20

    Chalnoth

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    Re: Free speech and cap 'n trade troubles

    Actually, you are: you're employing people. Instead of those people barely getting by, they're able to live at least somewhat comfortable lives. They're able to buy adequate amounts of food, homes, some basic amenities. Sure, due to the economic conditions, they're still more likely to save than they would under a more stable environment, but they're still spending quite a bit more.

    True enough. But again, this is only an argument that we don't need to be overly-concerned with efficiency. It's not an argument that we actually should pay people to dig ditches and fill them back up. Like I said, we want to be able to pay the money back later.

    Bear in mind, by the way, that the last time we had an economic crisis of similar severity was the Great Depression. We pulled out of the Great Depression through war spending, and war spending is even worse than the economic equivalent of digging ditches and filling them back up: you're actually extracting natural resources and then doing what amounts to dumping them into the ocean.

    Sure, but like I said, this doesn't really impact the argument.

    Basically, the stimulus should be large enough to close the output gap. In late 2008, it was looking like the 2009-2010 output gap would be around $2 trillion. Because the stimulus has a greater effect on the GDP than simple expenditures, this would have required a stimulus of about $1.2-1.3 trillion to close. Of course, the economy ended up a fair amount worse, so the total stimulus should have been a bit higher than this. But still nowhere near $10 trillion.

    As for the other money, there are three other types of spending:
    1. Tax cuts. The economic case for these is extremely weak. They produced some growth, after all, but it appears that they produce quite a bit less growth for the money, under current conditions, than stimulus.
    2. Bank bailouts. These were addressing a problem that really needed to be addressed, but in my opinion were handled exceedingly poorly. What we really needed was a major overhaul of the banking system, not to just hand out money to the same broken system and hope it's going to be okay.
    3. Industry bailouts. These occupy an exceedingly minuscule fraction of the total, and were basically necessary. The overall effect here was quite positive, as near as I can tell, especially because the money is expected to be paid back.
     
    Last edited: Dec 7, 2009
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