Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Best stimulus is no stimulus

Writing in the Christian Science Monitor Robert Higgs says:
Our greatest need at present is for the government to go in the opposite direction, to do much less, rather than much more. As recently as the major recession of 1920-21, the government took a hands-off position, and the downturn, though sharp, quickly reversed itself into full recovery. In contrast, Hoover responded to the downturn of 1929 by raising tariffs, propping up wage rates, bailing out farmers, banks, and other businesses, and financing state relief efforts. Roosevelt moved even more vigorously in the same activist direction, and the outcome was a protracted period of depression (and wartime privation) from which complete recovery did not come until 1946.
All of this is true.

According to Congressional Budget Office director Douglas W. Elmendorf, the Senate's stimulus bill "would raise output and lower unemployment for several years," but in the longer run, it "would result in a slight decrease in gross domestic product." Why? Because
the legislation would result in an increase in government debt. To the extent that people hold their wealth in the form of government bonds rather than in a form that can be used to finance private investment, the increased government debt would tend to 'crowd out' private investment—thus reducing the stock of private capital and the long-term potential output of the economy.

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