As a conservative economist, I might be expected to oppose a stimulus plan. In fact, on this page in October, I declared my support for a stimulus. But the fiscal package now before Congress needs to be thoroughly revised. In its current form, it does too little to raise national spending and employment. It would be better for the Senate to delay legislation for a month, or even two, if that's what it takes to produce a much better bill. We cannot afford an $800 billion mistake.For tax cuts, he goes on to point out that the currently proposed lump sum and temporary payments to households and businesses have little effect on economic output. However, his most pointed critiques are on the spending side:
Does anyone else find it bizarre that critics of those wanting to at least delay the stimulus package often retort that "if we wait, the recession will be over by the time it passes." I hardly see this as a reason to pass a gigantic stimulus plan with difficult long-run ramifications when the end is already in sight without the stimulus plan. It sounds more like a political opportunist argument, using the recession to justify big spending plans that otherwise would not succeed on their own merit.
On the spending side, the stimulus package is full of well-intended items that, unfortunately, are not likely to do much for employment. Computerizing the medical records of every American over the next five years is desirable, but it is not a cost-effective way to create jobs. Has anyone gone through the (long) list of proposed appropriations and asked how many jobs each would create per dollar of increased national debt?
The largest proposed outlays amount to just writing unrestricted checks to state governments. [...] Will these vast sums actually lead to additional spending, or will they merely finance state transfer payments or relieve state governments of the need for temporary tax hikes or bond issues?
The plan to finance health insurance premiums for the unemployed would actually increase unemployment by giving employers an incentive to lay off workers rather than pay health premiums during a time of weak demand. And this supposedly two-year program would create a precedent that could be hard to reverse.
A large fraction of the stimulus proposal is devoted to infrastructure projects that will spend out very slowly, not with the speed needed to help the economy in 2009 and 2010. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that less than one-fifth of the $50 billion of proposed spending on energy and water would occur by the end of 2010.
If rapid spending on things that need to be done is a criterion of choice, the plan should include higher defense outlays, including replacing and repairing supplies and equipment, needed after five years of fighting. The military can increase its level of procurement very rapidly. Yet the proposed spending plan includes less than $5 billion for defense, only about one-half of 1 percent of the total package.
All new spending and tax changes should have explicit time limits that prevent ever-increasing additions to the national debt. Similarly, spending programs should not create political dynamics that will make them hard to end.
The problem with the current stimulus plan is not that it is too big but that it delivers too little extra employment and income for such a large fiscal deficit. It is worth taking the time to get it right.