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Thursday, November 13, 2008

"Deficit Hawks are Like Protectionists"

Things are different when the economy is operating inside the production possibilities curve:

Deficit Hawks are Like Protectionists, by knzn: Everybody knows that, in the aggregate, trade increases welfare. ... But protectionists argue that the redistributive effects of trade can often be bad enough to outweigh the aggregate advantage. Trade can hurt certain parties that one may wish not to hurt. The overall pie is larger, but someone’s share may be smaller.

When an economy has slack resources, as the US economy – as well as the world economy – clearly does now and likely will even more in the immediate future, there is no aggregate welfare cost to using up those resources, so any benefit society receives is, in the aggregate, free. In an aggregate welfare sense, slack resources are a free lunch, and that lunch is wasted if nobody eats it. Deficit hawks talk about the cost to taxpayers and the cost to future generations and all that. But let it be noted that fiscal stimuli during times of slack resource use make the overall pie larger, and any objections must rest on the premise that the new division of the pie leaves some particular party with a smaller slice despite the larger pie. It’s pretty much analogous to the argument for protectionism. ...

[J]ust like the protectionists, the deficit hawks must be concerned about the redistributive effects of deficits, since the aggregate effect is to increase welfare. But while the protectionists actually have a pretty good argument (at least at the national level, in developed countries) as to why the redistributive effects are bad and might be expected to outweigh the aggregate effects in terms of importance, the deficit hawks’ arguments seem pretty lame to me.

The main issue would seem to be redistribution from future generations to the current generation. Here’s a point I made a couple of years ago, but I’ll repeat it: in the history of capitalism, there has been a consistent long-term trend of increasing welfare, by pretty much any reasonable measurement. You can complain about some of the things that have gotten worse, but the fact is, the19th century really sucked for most people, and the 18th century sucked even worse. And compared to the 1990s, the 1920s sucked, too. Unless we expect the trend to suddenly reverse itself, the likelihood is that future generations will be, in the relevant sense, richer than the current generation. So the deficit is a transfer from relatively rich future generations to the relatively poor current generation. I would hope that those future generations could spare a few extra pennies for such miserable folk as we. Especially since it is our blood, sweat, and tears that will have made them so rich. It is through no merit or toil of their own that they will come of age using microprocessors that run 1000 times faster than the ones we use today. ...

    Posted by on Thursday, November 13, 2008 at 01:17 AM in Budget Deficit, Economics, Fiscal Policy | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (86)

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