James Pethokoukis

Politics and policy from inside Washington

Zandi and Blinder make a weak case for Big Government

Jul 29, 2010 14:10 UTC

Mark Zandi and Alan Blinder have launched a maximum defense of all the government interventions in the economy since 2008. Without TARP, stimulus, various Fed actions  — the who kit and caboodle – their model estimates the following:

In the scenario that excludes all the extraordinary policies, the downturn con­tinues into 2011. Real GDP falls a stunning 7.4% in 2009 and another 3.7% in 2010 (see Table 3). The peak-to-trough decline in GDP is therefore close to 12%, compared to an actual decline of about 4%. By the time employment hits bottom, some 16.6 million jobs are lost in this scenario—about twice as many as actually were lost. The unemploy­ment rate peaks at 16.5%, and although not determined in this analysis, it would not be surprising if the underemployment rate approached one-fourth of the labor force. The federal budget deficit surges to over $2 trillion in fiscal year 2010, $2.6 trillion in fis­cal year 2011, and $2.25 trillion in FY 2012. Remember, this is with no policy response. With outright deflation in prices and wages in 2009-2011, this dark scenario constitutes a 1930s-like depression.

Here are few counterpoints. First, John Taylor of Stanford:

First, I do not think the paper tells us anything about the impact of these policies. It simply runs the policies through a model (Zandi’s model) and reports what the model says would happen. It does not look at what actually happened, and it does not look at other models, only Zandi’s own model.  … So there is nothing new in the fiscal stimulus part of this paper.

Second, I looked at how they assessed the impact of the financial market interventions. Again they do not directly assess the interventions. They just simulate the model with and without the interventions. They say that they have equations in the model which include the financial interventions as variables, but they do not report the size or significance of the coefficients or how they obtained them.

Third, the working paper makes no mention of previously published papers in the literature which get different results.  … For the record there are different results in papers by John Cogan, Volcker Wieland, Tobias Cwik and me in the Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, by John Williams and me in the American Economic Journal; Macroeconomics, or by me published by the Bank of Canada or the St. Louis Fed

And bit from Arnold Kling:

The model assumes a Keynesian world, in which labor is a variable factor of production that responds to incremental increases in aggregate demand. That might be an excellent assumption for 1910, when 73 percent of the work force was blue-collar. By 2000, 73 percent of the work force was white-collar. See Wyatt and Hecker. In today’s Garett Jones economy, labor acts more like a fixed factor. Blinder and Zandi do not know this (they may know it, but I doubt that it is incorporated into the model). So they do not know about jobless recoveries, breakdowns in Okun’s Law, the high ratio of permanent job losses to temporary layoffs, etc. Instead, at best they are living in 1970, with some add factors thrown in to get the model to track recent data. … I know that they think this is for a good cause. They really believe that the stimulus and TARP were good policies that got a bad rap. But in my view that does not justify this unseemly exercise in propaganda dressed up as research.

Me:  And what about the opportunity cost? All those hundreds of billions which could have been “spent” on long-term cuts in corporate and capital gains taxes that would have made America more competitive and boost growth.  Even a tax holiday (as suggested by Art Laffer) would have been a more effective approach. Instead unemployment is headed back to 10 percent and GDP growth is sliding back toward 2 percent.

COMMENT

CDNRebel: Average American corporate tax levels stand at 38%, exceeded only by the Japanese, whose rates are 39% or higher. Canada’s corporate tax rates stand at 29% and are falling quickly. Irish tax rates are 15% (!). America taxes its corporations much too heavily and, believe it or not, America now has to compete with low-tax jurisdictions elsewhere. Chase away the big corporations and all their jobs with confiscatory taxation and you will never, EVER, replace all the jobs lost during the most recent recession. There is a lot going on outside America’s borders, more than just China. Try getting informed about it.

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Obama polls continue to melt during Recovery Summer

Jul 29, 2010 13:20 UTC

President Barack Obama’s “recovery summer” has become a summer swoon. GDP growth has downshifted, as have his poll numbers. And with Democrats likely to suffer big losses in November’s elections, the president will have to rethink his economic agenda or face gridlock in 2011.

A new Reuters-Ipsos survey puts Obama’s job approval at 48 percent, down two points from June. It’s a number that doesn’t bode well for Democrats in the congressional midterms. Since 1962, the party of a president with an approval rating under 50 percent lost an average of 41 seats in the House of Representatives. Republicans currently need 39 seats to retake the lower chamber, and thereby regain control over the initiation of tax and spending bills. (Other polls are even more discouraging. The RealClearPolitics poll aggregator has Obama at 46.0 approve, 48.7 disapprove.)

Drill a bit deeper into the poll and the danger for congressional Democrats appears even more acute. In the poll, 46 percent said they would vote Republican for Congress against 44 percent who preferred Democrats. In 2008, Democrats took 55 percent of that vote. For now at least, Republicans are also much more determined to vote in November’s polls than Democrats.

Meanwhile, 31 percent of respondents said they “strongly disapprove” of Obama’s performance, a five point jump. The economy is draining his popularity more and more every day. The Reuters poll suggests it is his weakest issue, and voters are gloomier about America’s direction than they were last summer. That’s not an unreasonable assessment. Though the U.S. economy is expanding, the annual growth rate is probably now closer to 2 percent than 3 percent — not enough to chip away much at the 9.5 percent unemployment rate before the elections come around.

A change of control in Congress might seem a harbinger of gridlock next year. The dark scenario would involve battles as Republicans try to repeal parts of recent healthcare and financial sector legislation. But with greater numbers, the GOP might in fact feel more secure and thus more willing to haggle — as it did during Bill Clinton’s presidency.

Hashing out compromises would, however, also require Obama to shift toward the Republicans on key issues like taxes and regulation. Doing so would be a much better option than spending his next two years defending the sweeping reforms passed in his first two.

COMMENT

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