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Monday, January 12, 2009

Paul Krugman: Ideas for Obama

The surge needs to be sustained. That is,"Mr. Obama needs to make his plan bigger," and to ensure that the recovery effort persists beyond the initial large impulse called for in the proposal:

Ideas for Obama, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: Last week President-elect Barack Obama was asked to respond to critics who say that his stimulus plan won’t do enough to help the economy. Mr. Obama answered that he wants to hear ideas about “how to spend money efficiently and effectively to jump-start the economy.”

O.K., I’ll bite — although as I’ll explain..., the “jump-start” metaphor is part of the problem.

First, Mr. Obama should scrap his proposal for $150 billion in business tax cuts, which would do little to help the economy. Ideally he’d scrap the proposed $150 billion payroll tax cut as well, though I’m aware that it was a campaign promise.

Money not squandered on ineffective tax cuts could be used to provide ... enhanced unemployment benefits, expanded Medicaid and more. And why not get an early start on the insurance subsidies ... that will be essential if we’re going to achieve universal health care?

Mainly, though, Mr. Obama needs to make his plan bigger. To see why, consider a new report from his own economic team.

On Saturday, Christina Romer,... future head of the Council of Economic Advisers, and Jared Bernstein, who will be the vice president’s chief economist, released estimates of what the Obama economic plan would accomplish. ...

According to Ms. Romer and Mr. Bernstein, the Obama plan would have its maximum impact in the fourth quarter of 2010. Without the plan, they project, the unemployment rate in that quarter would be a disastrous 8.8 percent. Yet even with the plan, unemployment would be 7 percent — roughly as high as ... now.

After 2010, the report says, the effects of the economic plan would rapidly fade away. The job of promoting full recovery would, however, remain undone: the unemployment rate would still be a painful 6.3 percent in the last quarter of 2011.

Now,... I’m with Lawrence Summers ... who recently declared, “In this crisis, doing too little poses a greater threat than doing too much.” Unfortunately, that principle isn’t reflected in the current plan.

So how can Mr. Obama do more? By including a lot more public investment in his plan — which will be possible if he takes a longer view.

The Romer-Bernstein report acknowledges that “a dollar of infrastructure spending is more effective in creating jobs than a dollar of tax cuts.” It argues, however, that “there is a limit on how much government investment can be carried out efficiently in a short time frame.” But why does the time frame have to be short?

As far as I can tell, Mr. Obama’s planners have focused on investment projects that will deliver their main jobs boost over the next two years. But since unemployment is likely to remain high well beyond that two-year window, the plan should also include longer-term investment projects. ...

If Mr. Obama drops the “jump-start” metaphor, if he accepts the reality that we need a multi-year program rather than a short burst of activity, he can create a lot more jobs through government investment, even in the near term. ...

One more thing: even with the Obama plan, the Romer-Bernstein report predicts an average unemployment rate of 7.3 percent over the next three years. That’s a scary number, big enough to pose a real risk that the U.S. economy will get stuck in a Japan-type deflationary trap.

So my advice to the Obama team is to scrap the business tax cuts, and, more important, to deal with the threat of doing too little by doing more. And the way to do more is to stop talking about jump-starts and look more broadly at the possibilities for government investment.

    Posted by on Monday, January 12, 2009 at 12:42 AM in Economics, Fiscal Policy | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (120)

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