Tag: budget deficits

Paul Krugman on Pump-Priming and Trump

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman recently chided President Trump for imagining he invented the metaphor of “priming the pump” during an Economist interview. Yet Krugman, like Trump, buys into the premise that budget deficits really do “stimulate” total spending or “aggregate demand” which is commonly measured by growth of Nominal GDP (NGDP).

Economic booms and busts clearly have huge effects on budget deficits, but where is the evidence that deficits and surpluses have their own separate (“exogenous”) effect on NGDP? 

To isolate cause and effect, we have to take out the “endogenous” effects that ups and downs in the economy have on taxes and spending. That is why the Congressional Budget Office (CBO)estimates budget deficits or surpluses (divided by GDP) without automatic stabilizers, which has traditionally been called the “cyclically-adjusted” budget. I will label it the “C-A Deficit” for short.  

CA Deficit and NGDP

The red line in the graph shows the CBO’s Cyclically-Adjusted (C-A) deficit or surplus as a share of GDP. The blue line shows the percentage growth in Nominal GDP (NGDP). 

From 1965 to 2016, the C-A Deficit averaged -2.7% of GDP, and growth of nominal GDP averaged 6.6%.

Contrary to 1960s Keynesian orthodoxy, the graph and table reveal no connection between the size of cyclically-adjusted deficits or surpluses and the rate of growth of aggregate demand (NGDP).  From 1991 to 2001, for example, the C-A Budget swings from an average deficit to a sizable surplus with essentially no change in the pace of NGDP growth. 

There is no measurable or even visible connection between larger CA-Deficits and faster NGDP growth in 2009-2012, nor between budget surpluses and slower NGDP growth in 1998-2000.  For more than 50 years, our experience has frequently been the opposite of what demand-side fiscalism predicts. This is not just a short-term phenomenon.

Revenues from Trump Plan Unfairly Compared to Fanciful CBO Projections

Tax Policy Center estimate of a 10-year $6.2 trillion revenue loss is used to predict higher interest rates, and those higher interest rates prevent the economy from growing faster, which in turn vindicates the static assumption of a $6.2 trillion revenue loss.  

The circularity of this tangled fable is remarkably illogical.  How could interest rates remain higher if private investment is crowded out leaving GDP growth unchanged?

The TPC tells a similar story about the House Republican tax plan.  “Although the House GOP tax plan would improve incentives to save and invest, it would also substantially increase budget deficits unless offset by spending cuts, resulting in higher interest rates that would crowd out investment [emphasis added].”  This too is an unsupported assertion. The TPC analysis predicts more private savings and therefore cannot simply assume deficits “would crowd out investment.”

ObamaCare’s New Freedom

Earlier this month, President Obama’s HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius took to the Washington Post’s op-ed page to reassure everybody that ObamaCare “puts states in the driver’s seat” and “gives states incredible freedom to tailor reforms to their needs.” 

One grows weary of exposing the brazen falsehoods this administration incessantly and unconscionably peddles about its corrupt, unconstitutional, and irredeemable health care law.  But here I go again: the very idea that ObamaCare puts states in the driver’s seat is nonsense. States already had the power to enact all the taxes, mandates, and price controls that ObamaCare expects them to implement — and to make what few choices ObamaCare leaves them. 

If you want to know what Incredible Freedom really means, look to Wisconsin, where President Obama — who is evidently bored with the federal budget — has inserted himself into a state budget dispute, as David Boaz has noted

As it turns out, Incredible Freedom means you are free to do exactly what President Obama wants. 

The Washington Post reports on talk of federal bailouts for states (like Wisconsin) that are struggling with huge deficits and unfunded liabilities in their state pension and retiree health care programs.  However: 

The White House has dismissed such speculation, saying states have the wherewithal to raise taxes, cut programs and renegotiate employee contracts to balance their books

A startling admission.  Perhaps someone in the White House can pull Sebelius aside and explain that states also had the wherewithal to enact all the “reforms” that ObamaCare imposed on them.  States already were “in the driver’s seat.  They already had the power “to tailor reforms to their needs.” 

Then along came ObamaCare.

Gary Johnson and Drug Policy

As governor of New Mexico, Gary Johnson succeeded in eliminating New Mexico’s budget deficit, cutting the rate of growth in state government in half, and privatizing half of the state prisons. During Johnson’s term, New Mexico experienced the longest period without a tax increase in the state’s history. He vetoed 750 bills in eight years, more than all other governors combined. The Economist dubbed him “America’s boldest governor” – and that was before he took on drug prohibition. He discussed drug policy and other issues at the Cato Institute November 1, 2010 at a Cato on Campus forum.

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Postal Union Wants More

The finances of the U.S. Postal Service are deeply in the red. The agency faces a permanently reduced demand for its services and its labor accounts for almost 80 percent of its costs. Thus it is not a good time for postal employees to get an increase in wages and benefits, right?

According to one postal union, the USPS’s deteriorating condition isn’t relevant. The American Postal Workers Union, which represents more than 200,000 employees, has recently entered collective bargaining negotiations for a new contract. In an interview with Government Executive, APWU President William Burrus calls a pay increase for his members an “entitlement”:

“More – more control over activities at work, more money, better benefits – we want more,” said Burrus. “We will try to fashion our proposals to reflect the entitlement to more.”

An arbitrator will most likely determine whether APWU workers get their raises. Oddly, according to federal law an arbitrator can’t take the USPS’s financial condition into account when weighing a decision. This is like instructing the captain of a ship that’s struck an iceberg to ignore the gaping hole in the boat when deciding whether or not to abandon it.

USPS management has asked Congress to change the law, which Burrus preposterously calls “antidemocratic”:

Burrus said he resents the idea that an arbitrator should be required to take into account the Postal Service’s financial situation. He called the idea antidemocratic and said it interferes with free collective bargaining.

Having watched the unionized workforces at GM and Chrysler receive preferential treatment from the federal government, there’s little incentive for Burrus and the postal unions to not ask for more. The postal unions are likely betting that in a worst case financial scenario for the USPS, policymakers will tap taxpayers for a bailout. Unfortunately, if recent history is a guide, they’re probably correct.

Let’s Regulate Barney Frank’s Pay

“Rep. Barney Frank, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, said Tuesday that he will hold a hearing this fall to examine whether regulators are being tough enough in curbing pay practices at Wall Street firms that can lead to excessively risky practices,” writes Zachary Goldfarb in the Washington Post.

Hmmm. “Pay practices that can lead to excessively risky practices.” Since Barney Frank entered Congress, federal spending has risen from $590 billion in 1980 to $3.7 trillion this year. (U.S. Budget, Historical Tables, Table 1.1) The annual deficit has risen from $74 billion to $1.5 trillion.  Gross federal debt rose from $909 billion to $13.8 trillion – and to over $15 trillion next year. (Table 7.1) And all this without a major war or depression during those 30 years.

Maybe we should adjust pay practices for members of Congress to give them an incentive to avoid risky, unaffordable, out-of-control borrowing and spending.

More Garbage-In-Garbage-Out from CBO

You don’t need to watch old Gunsmoke episodes if you want to travel into the past. Just read the latest Congressional Budget Office “research” claiming that Obama’s so-called stimulus “increased the number of full-time-equivalent jobs by 1.8 million to 4.1 million.” CBO’s analysis is a throwback to the widely discredited Keynesian theory that assumes you can enrich yourself by switching money from your left pocket to right pocket. For all intents and purposes, CBO wants us to believe their Keynesian model and ignore real world data. This is akin to the famous line attributed to Willie Nelson, who was caught with another woman by his wife and supposedly said, “Are you going to believe me or your lying eyes?”

Using its own Keynesian model, the White House last year said that wasting $800 billion was necessary to keep the unemployment rate from rising above 8 percent. Yet the joblessness rate quickly jumped to 10 percent and remains stubbornly high. We’ve already beaten this dead horse (here, here, here, here, and here), in part because the White House has embarrassed itself even further with silly attempts to find some way of turning a sow’s ear into a silk purse. This is why Obama Adminisration estimates have evolved from “jobs created” to “jobs saved” to “jobs financed.”

The CBO’s most recent ”calculations” are just another version of the same economic alchemy. But don’t believe me. Buried at the end of the report is this passage, where CBO basically admits that its new “research” simply plugged new spending numbers into its Keynesian formula. This sounds absurd, and it is, but don’t forget that these are the same geniuses that predicted that a giant new health care entitlement would reduce long-run budget deficits.

CBO’s current estimates of the impact of ARRA on output and employment differ slightly from those presented in its February 2010 report primarily because the agency has revised its estimates of ARRA’s impact on federal spending on the basis of new information. Outlays resulting from ARRA in the first quarter of calendar year 2010 were higher than the amount that CBO projected in February 2010 in preparing its estimate of the law’s likely impact on output and employment, primarily because a larger-than-expected amount of refundable tax credits was disbursed in the first quarter rather than later in the year. That change makes the estimated impact of ARRA on output and employment in the first quarter slightly higher than what CBO projected in February.