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Argument: Stimulus is from taxes or debt; injects no new money

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"The Stimulus Tragedy". Wall Street Journal (editorial). February 6, 2009 - Mr. Obama is now endorsing a sort of reductionist Keynesianism that argues that any government spending is an economic stimulus. This is so manifestly false that we doubt Mr. Obama really believes it. He has to know that it matters what the government spends the money on, as well as how it is financed. A dollar doled out in jobless benefits may well be spent by the worker who receives it. That $1 of spending will count as economic activity and add to GDP.

But that same dollar can't be conjured out of thin air. The government has to take that dollar away from someone else -- either in higher taxes, or by issuing new debt in the form of a bond. The person who is taxed or buys the bond will have $1 less to spend. If the beneficiary of that $1 spends it on something less productive than the taxed American or the lender would have, then the net impact on growth will be negative.

Some Democrats claim these transfer payments are stimulating because they go mainly to poor people, who immediately spend the money. Tax cuts for business or for incomes across the board won't work, they add, because those tax cuts go disproportionately to "the rich," who will save the money. But a saved $1 doesn't vanish from the economy, unless it is stuffed into a mattress. It enters the financial system, where it is lent to others; or it is invested in the stock market as capital for businesses; or it is invested in entirely new businesses, which are the real drivers of job creation and prosperity.


Brian Riedl, Heritage Foundation. "The Case for No Stimulus". National Review. February 3, 2009 - "The grand Keynesian myth is that you can spend money and thereby increase demand. And it’s a myth because Congress does not have a vault of money to distribute in the economy. Every dollar Congress injects into the economy must first be taxed or borrowed out of the economy. You’re not creating new demand, you’re just transferring it from one group of people to another. If Washington borrows the money from domestic lenders, then investment spending falls, dollar for dollar. If they borrow the money from foreigners, say from China, then net exports drop dollar for dollar, because the balance of payments must adjust. Therefore, again, there is no net increase in aggregate demand. It just means that one group of people has $800 billion less to spend, and the government has $800 billion more to spend."


Brian Wesbury. "Unemployment and Stimulus". The American Spectator. February 6th, 2009 - The reality is that every dollar the federal government spends must be borrowed or taxed from the private sector. And the more resources the government usurps from the private sector, the less job creation occurs.

It is also true that most government spending is less efficient than private sector spending. While there may be a few areas that government spending makes sense -- let's say defense or some R&D -- the vast majority of government spending has nothing to do with creating new wealth. It often competes against the private sector -- the postal service and Amtrak -- and much of it is pure re-distribution.

So, this raises a serious question. Why is the government trying the same old spending stimulus that the evidence clearly shows does not work? President Carter spent billions of dollars on alternative energy plans, but unemployment rose anyway. If the U.S. and the new administration are serious about "change" and "getting rid of the old ways of doing things," why not try something truly new?


Daniel Mitchell. "Myth: Government Spending Stimulates the Economy". Pajamas Media. November 21, 2008 - Whenever the economy stumbles, politicians and interest groups commonly argue that government spending should be increased. Based on a theory known as Keynesianism, this increase is supposed to boost economic performance. Yet the notion that bigger government leads to more growth is both theoretically unsound and empirically false.

This strange theory was first put forth back during the 1930s, when America was suffering from a deep downturn. An economist named John Maynard Keynes argued that the economy could be boosted if the government borrowed money and spent it. According to this Keynesian approach, this new spending would put money in people’s pockets, and the recipients of the funds would then spend the money. This would, according to the theory, “prime the pump” as the money began circulating through the economy. The Keynesians also said that some tax cuts — particularly lump-sum rebates — could have the same impact since the purpose is to have the government borrow and somehow put the money in the hands of people who will spend it.

So is this the right recipe to boost a flagging economy? Keynesian theory sounds good, and it would be nice if it made sense, but it has a rather glaring logical fallacy. It overlooks the fact that, in the real world, government can’t inject money into the economy without first taking money out of the economy. Put more bluntly, Keynesianism only looks at one-half of the equation. It conveniently ignores the fact that any money that the government puts in the economy’s right pocket is money that is first removed from the economy’s left pocket. As such, there is no increase in what Keynesians refer to as aggregate demand. The bottom line is that Keynesianism doesn’t boost national income, it merely redistributes it.

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