A Stimulus Project That Works
By Jerome Grossman
President Obama is pressing for a quick jolt to the economy to make up for the dramatic decline in public consumption that has left our business system gasping. The dream of endless consumption of goods and services has no limits as our species chews up the planet in the race between endless population growth and the finite resources of Mother Earth.
In the current economic crisis, we are all Keynesians, followers of John Maynard Keynes, who believed that a program of government spending on public works would increase national purchasing power and promote employment. The latest proposal considered by Congress calls for spending $825 billion, including $550 billion "For spending on infrastructure, science, energy and education programs over two years” and $275 billion "For tax cuts for individuals and businesses."
That bill will not give Obama his quick jolt. In total dollars it is inadequate: The stimulus needs to be $1 trillion for each of the next two years. From past experience in the US and Japan much if not most of the income generated will be put into bank accounts or used to pay debts. The proposed spending on infrastructure et al takes time to organize and is subject to delays, sometimes as long as two years. The tax credits to business are unlikely to stimulate investment and employment, which depend on an increased flow of sales.
Furthermore, the Congress program is too complicated, trying to correct social deficiencies when the problem is how to stimulate a quick jolt to restore purchasing power to give business the incentive to hire workers and invest in equipment. First things first.
Here is a simple plan to accomplish the objectives immediately and effectively without a new bureaucracy. For numerical simplicity, assume that there are one hundred million families in our nation of 300 million people. Mail to each family a numbered coupon giving ten thousand dollars for the purchase of goods and services only, a total of one trillion dollars. The coupon must be used within 60 days, and then sent to the U.S. Treasury by the vendors within 60 days. Repeat: only for goods and services, not for deposit in banks, not for payment of debts. Every family would participate in the plan, would understand it, and would benefit.The coupon would be worthless if not spent within 60 days, encouraging immediate spending.
This program gives the economy an immediate jolt of $1 trillion. The operating cost is minimal. No delay to set up a bureaucracy. The U.S. Treasury and Census Bureau have all the names and addresses. Repeat the $1 trillion project in 2011 to encourage business by promising the continuance of the purchasing power.
We are all Keynesians now, Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. Let’s use a Keynesian formula and objective in its purest form. Will it cost too much? Professor Martin Feldstein, Harvard economist and chief economic advisor to President Reagan said, “Without that rise in government spending the economic downturn would be deeper and longer.” The production lost in a deeper and longer recession would amount to at least $5 trillion. The Keynesian formula will pay for itself.