Sunday, July 10, 2011

Why the obsession over the deficit?

Obviously, the national debt is something that needs to be fixed in the medium term. We can't just keep spending like drunken sailors and leaving future generations with the bill. However, with unemployment still a major problem, is this really the time to crack down on deficit spending?

Let me use an analogy here. Suppose you are the coach of a pro sports team. One of your star players comes to training camp out of shape and having gained 15 pounds, and on the first day of practice he slightly tears the meniscus in his knee. Clearly, the best course of action would be to first repair his knee, then after his knee has healed get him back into shape. It seems like the Republicans, however, believe that it is best to immediately get him back into shape and pray that the knee doesn't get any worse. Major budget cuts certainly won't help employment, and they might make it worse. Is it really the right time to start making deep budget cuts?

Of course, the question that remains is how to fix private-sector unemployment. I can think of a few possible ways:
  1. Cut corporate income taxes, while closing loopholes.
  2. Eliminate some of the regulations that are most burdensome and expensive for businesses.
  3. Declare a one-year payroll tax holiday, or eliminate it altogether (since the payroll tax is basically a tax on hiring).
  4. Implement a tax credit or subsidy for buying American goods.
  5. Invest in maintaining American infrastructure (which the 2009 stimulus somehow failed to do).
Naturally, none of these are very popular with partisans on Capitol Hill. #1 and #2 are anathema to Democrats, while #4 would be a tough sell to Republicans. #5 is not likely to survive the political process without being turned into something more "glamorous" (like a new museum) that a representative can show off to people in his/her district. And that is probably why the economy has been in a slump for nearly three years now and Congress still hasn't implemented even a half-decent solution.

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