Friday, 24 February 2012

Stimulating Ourselves to Death


The theory of economic stimuli suffers from several serious problems. First, it assumes people are stupid. Tax rebates, for example, presume that if people get some money to increase their consumption, businesses will expand their production and hire more workers. Not true. Even if producers notice an upward blip in sales after the rebate checks go out, they will know it’s temporary. Companies won’t hire more employees or build new factories in response to a temporary increase in sales. Those who do will go out of business.

Second, the thinking behind stimulus legislation assumes that the government is better at spending $825 billion than the private sector. When Obama says, “We’ll invest in what works,” he means, “unlike you bozos.” The president’s faith in Washington is sweet, but politics rather than sound economics guide government spending. Politicians rely on lobbyists from unions, corporations, pressure groups, and state and local governments when they decide how to spend other people’s money. By contrast, entrepreneurs’ decisions to spend their own cash are guided by monetary profit and loss. That’s likely to work better and certain to produce more innovation.

The biggest problem is that the government can’t inject money into the economy without first taking money out of the economy. Where does the government get that money? It can a) borrow it or b) collect it from taxes. There is no aggregate increase in demand. Government borrowing and spending doesn’t boost national income or standard of living; it merely redistributes it. The pie is sliced differently, but it’s not any bigger.

In fact, the data suggest that stimuli often end up shrinking the pie. In a 2008 paper, budget analyst Brian Riedl of the conservative Heritage Foundation summarized several studies that found past increases in government spending reduced the economic growth rate by between 0.14 and 0.36 percentage point. This means that every dollar’s worth of production used to satisfy the government’s demand is offset by more than a dollar’s worth of production that is no longer available to consumers and businesses.

Source: Veronique de Rugy for Reason Online