The New View Of Fiscal Policy?

Jason Furman, Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers to the President of the United States, has an articleThe New View Of Fiscal Policy And Its Application for Vox. In this, he admits how wrong economists have been about fiscal policy. I’ve quoted his paper on which the article is based before here on this blog.

Furman says:

A decade ago, the prevalent view about fiscal policy among academic economists could be summarised in four admittedly stylised principles:

  • Discretionary fiscal policy is dominated by monetary policy as a stabilisation tool because of lags in the application, impact, and removal of discretionary fiscal stimulus.
  • Even if policymakers get the timing right, discretionary fiscal stimulus would be somewhere between completely ineffective (the Ricardian view) or somewhat ineffective with bad side effects (higher interest rates and crowding-out of private investment).
  • Moreover, fiscal stabilisation needs to be undertaken with trepidation, if at all, because the biggest fiscal policy priority should be the long-run fiscal balance.
  • Policymakers foolish enough to ignore (1) through (3) should at least make sure that any fiscal stimulus is very short-run, including pulling demand forward, to support the economy before monetary policy stimulus fully kicks in while minimising harmful side effects and long-run fiscal harm.

Furman then goes on to highlight how wrong each of the “principles” is.

He also says,

In the immediate postwar decades, economists broadly supported fiscal stimulus (e.g. Blinder and Solow 1973). But much of modern academic macroeconomics has ranged from dismissive of any effect of fiscal policy on the macroeconomy …

While that’s good, the main issue with the article is that it fails to mention that Post-Keynesians have argued about the strong effects of fiscal policy since long. Not only that, Furman advocates fiscal policy coordination across countries:

Finally, there may be larger benefits to undertaking coordinated fiscal action across countries.

Again, this is not “new” in any sense, just non-orthodox. Here is what Nicholas Kaldor said in 1984 in his lectures Causes Of Growth And Stagnation In The World Economy:

I should like to end this series of lectures by suggesting the outline of a world-wide agreement on the necessary policies for recovery. The programme could be summed up under four main heads:

  1. The first is coordinated fiscal action including a set of consistent balance of payments targets and “full employment” budgets.If this does not prove to be politically feasible, it is inevitable that the growth of unemployment will sooner or later force governments to take measures that would make it necessary for them to expand demand without being frustrated by the inevitable balance of payments consequence of expanding their economies relative to their trading partners. This means that there needs to be some form of restriction that would limit the increase in “competitive” imports to some target ratio in relation to exports. Trade liberalisation, which played such an important part in the rapid economic progress during the years of expansion, becomes a serious obstacle to economic recovery in the case of prolonged stagnation due to the inability of countries to achieve a coordinated set of policies. But, given a proper recognition of the problem, that under conditions of unrestricted free trade the actual volume of production and trade may in fact be considerably less than under some system of regulated trade – a system which relates the volume of imports in manufactures from a particular group of countries, such as the members of the EEC, to some mutually agreed ratio to the exports of individual members to the rest of the group – there is no reason why full employment should not be restored through policies of expansion, preferably directed by the expansion of State investment. This coordinated action by all countries, instead of isolated actions by each country, is the first and most important requirement of recovery.

At present all countries have fairly large deficits in the general government budget, but these are largely the consequence of the low level of activity. On a “full employment” basis they would show a highly restrictive picture – they would show surpluses and not deficits. Contrary to appearances, the requirement of stability is for expansionary budgets with lower taxes and higher expenditure, and not further fiscal restriction (as is advocated, for example, by M. de Larosiere of the International Monetary Fund).

But finally some sense prevails in the economics community. Jason Furman’s article should be used to argue against anyone who says: “we always knew” even though his/her position has shifted. So there’s nothing new about the “new view”. Just that economists from the mid-70s till now have been orthodox.

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