The Stimulus Ostriches

BERKELEY – Of all the strange things that have happened this winter, perhaps the strangest has been the emergence of large-scale Republican Party opposition to the Obama administration's effort to keep American unemployment from jumping to 10% or higher. There is no doubt that had John McCain won the presidential election last November, a very similar deficit-spending stimulus package to the Obama plan – perhaps with more tax cuts and fewer spending increases – would have moved through Congress with unanimous Republican support.

As N. Gregory Mankiw said of a stimulus package back in 2003, when he was President George W. Bush's chief economic advisor, this is not rocket science. Deficit spending in a recession, he said, “help[s] maintain the aggregate demand for goods and services. There is nothing novel about this. It is very conventional short-run stabilization policy: you can find it in all of the leading textbooks...”

I can understand (though I disagree with) opponents of the stimulus plan who believe that the situation is not that dire; that the government spending will be slow and wasteful (whereas properly targeted tax cuts would provide a more effective stimulus); and thus that it would have been better to defeat Obama’s stimulus bill and try again in a couple of months.

I can also understand (though I disagree with) opponents who believe that the short-run stimulus effect of the plan will be small, while America’s weak fiscal position implies a large long-run drag on the economy from the costs of servicing the resulting debt.