Good piece from Marshall Auerback on the risk of premature public sector tightening, as manifest in a proposed ‘deficit commission’.
…President Obama has voiced support for such a plan, as have 35 Democratic and Republican senators, who have signed on to legislation that would create a bipartisan commission with broad power to force painful spending cuts and tax increases through Congress….Even before its official inception, the proposed commission is starting with remarkably partisan assumptions about debt and entitlement programs. What is so inherently “unsustainable” about our current levels of government debt? In the early Victorian period, for example, the British government debt to GDP ratio was nearly 200 per cent and almost reached that level again in the early 1920s. The historian Lord Macaulay noted that at every stage of debt increase, “it was seriously asserted by wise men that bankruptcy and ruin were at hand; yet still the debt kept on growing, and still bankruptcy and ruin were as remote as ever.”
The ideas which underlie this new commission also display fundamental ignorance about double-entry bookkeeping principles which have been in existence for over 7 centuries.
In truth, today’s deficit hawks are nothing more than zealots — poised again to preach their nonsensical theology that government deficits are dangerous and need to be cut, without honestly explaining the full consequences of their recommendations. If households attempt to net save by spending less than they are earning, and businesses attempt to net save (reinvesting less than their retained earnings), then private sector incomes and real output will decline absent an increase in government spending. The danger of premature fiscal tightening was illustrated in the US in 1936-37, when the ending of a war veterans’ bonus and the introduction of Social Security taxes helped push the US back into recession when recovery from the Great Depression was far from complete.
I’m becoming a rather lonely wingnut, but we strongly suspect that Auerback and his ilk are right, and that the spending phobes and deficit hawks are wrong. If so, and if the Administration and Congress tighten prematurely, with or without the Fed, then the 1937 and 1990s Japan scenarios remain firmly in play. Time will tell.