Saturday, November 7, 2009

Definition of insanity

From today’s Wall Street Journal:

A familiar definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing and expecting different results. So in the wake of yesterday's report that the national jobless rate climbed to 10.2% in October, we suppose we can expect the political class to demand another "stimulus." Maybe if Congress spends another $787 billion in the name of job creation, it can get the jobless rate up to 12% or 13%.

It's hard to imagine a more complete repudiation of Keynesian stimulus than the evidence of the last year's job market. We've now had two examples of such stimulus—President Bush's $160 billion effort in February 2008 and President Obama's mega-version a year later—and neither has made even the smallest dent in employment. As the nearby chart shows, Mr. Obama's economic advisers sold the stimulus by saying it would keep the jobless rate below 8%.

The White House says the stimulus created as many as one million new jobs, but this is single-entry economic bookkeeping. … But such spending isn't free. Every dollar in new government spending is taxed or borrowed from the private economy, which might have put it to better use.

If the government takes $1 from Paul, who would have invested it in a new business, and gives it to Peter, who spends it on a new lawn mower, the government records it as a net gain for economic growth via consumption. But the economy is hardly more productive as a result. …

The policy lesson here is for both political parties. President Bush's cave-in to Democrats in 2008 meant that there was no debate in Washington over policies that might have produced a much better stimulus at that early point in the recession. Like so much else in Mr. Bush's final year, he lost his policy bearings and forgot the lesson of 2003: A stimulating tax cut needs to be immediate, permanent and at the margin of the next dollar earned. Instead, for the last two years, the U.S. and most of the world have been pouring money into a Keynesian cul-de-sac.
The latest example of outsourcing economic criticism in these hard times.

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