Joseph Stiglitz on the tax cuts versus spending question:
Do not squander America’s stimulus on tax cuts, by Joseph Stiglitz, Commentary, Financial Times: As news of the US economy worsens, worries about whether a stimulus could restart the economy are growing. ...
What is clear is that tax cuts will not help much. ... It has been surprising, then, to see President George W. Bush’s former economic advisers, including Greg Mankiw, argue that tax cuts are the way forward. ...
Tax cuts have increased our national debt. They encouraged America to live beyond its means, increasing our liabilities without commensurate increases in assets. Further tax cuts would do the same. Good accounting looks at assets and liabilities. Spending on infrastructure, education and technology create assets; they increase future productivity.
Some of the spending in the stimulus serves multiple ends. Increased unemployment benefits have the largest multiplier effects – cash-strapped families spend every cent given – and meet vital social needs. It is imperative to provide health insurance to the unemployed: without that, a single serious incident can push a family into bankruptcy. Helping the unemployed meet house payments reduces foreclosures, addressing one of the underlying causes of the crisis. There are thus triple benefits.
We are in uncharted territory in this crisis. But household tax cuts, except for possibly the poorest, should have no place in the stimulus. Nor should business tax breaks, except when closely linked with additional investment. The one tax cut that should be included is a temporary incremental investment tax credit; it provides a big bang for the buck, encouraging companies to invest now when the economy needs the spending. Increased investments in infrastructure, education and technology, relief to states, and help to the unemployed need pride of place.
This is a stimulus that some Republicans will find less attractive than previous give-aways. But Americans voted for change they could believe in. I trust that that is what we will get.
There's also a video, "Conversations on the Credit Crunch," at the link above.