President Obama will be unveiling another “jobs plan” tomorrow night, though Democrats are being careful not to call it stimulus after the failure of the $800 billion package from 2008.
But just as a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, bigger government is not good for the economy, regardless of how it is characterized.
Here are the most likely provisions for Obama’s new stimulus, as reported by the Associated Press, along with a grade reflecting whether the proposals will be effective.
Payroll tax relief - C - This proposal won’t do any harm, but it probably won’t have much positive impact because people generally don’t make permanent decisions on creating jobs and expanding output on the basis of temporary tax cuts.
But, to be fair, if the tax cut keeps getting extended, people may begin to view it as a semi-permanent part of the tax code, which would make it a bit more potent.
Extended unemployment benefits - F - I agree with Paul Krugman and Larry Summers, both of whom have written that you extend joblessness when you pay people to be unemployed for longer and longer periods of time.
And I recently produced a chart showing how long-term unemployment has jumped sharply since Obama entered the White House, a dismal result that almost surely is related to the numerous expansions of unemployment benefits.
New-hire tax credit - D - This proposal actually would subsidize employment rather than joblessness, so it’s an improvement over extending unemployment benefits, but it’s unclear how the IRS can effectively enforce such a scheme.
This approach was tried already, as part of HIRE Act of 2010 (which was infamous for the FATCA provision), and it obviously didn’t generate great results. Simply stated, giving special tax breaks to companies with high employee turnover is not an effective approach.
School construction subsidies - F - The federal government should have no role in education. Period.
That being said, the economic flaw of school construction spending-cum-stimulus is that government spending must be financed with either taxes or borrowing, both of which divert resources from the productive sector of the economy. Simply stated, Keynesian spending does not work.
Temporary expensing of business investment - B - The current tax code penalizes new business investment by forcing companies to “depreciate” those costs rather than “expense” them, thus forcing companies to artificially overstate profits. Temporary expensing mitigates this foolish bias.
But temporary tax cuts, as noted above, are unlikely to have a permanent impact on growth. Temporary expensing, however, will encourage companies to accelerate planned investment to take advantage of better tax treatment, so it can lead to more short-term economic activity (albeit perhaps by reducing economic activity in future years).
The only good news - at least relatively speaking - is that Obama supposedly will propose to misallocate $300 billion of resources, significantly less than what was squandered as part of the 2009 faux stimulus.
But the bad news is that the AP story also notes that “Obama has said he intends to propose long-term deficit reduction measures to cover the up-front costs of his jobs plan.” Translated into English, that means the gimmicks and new spending in the plan proposed tomorrow night will lead to proposed tax hikes at some point in the future.
More taxes and more spending. Hey, it worked for the Greeks, right?