Edward Lazear raises some important points in the Wall Street Journal today:
Congress and the Obama administration have used the economic downturn as an excuse to expand the size of government. Calling it a stimulus, they have instead put in place a spending agenda that will unfold over the next two years. Although a little over one-third of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 goes to tax relief, the rest is in the form of spending programs that will be difficult to stop once they are up and running.Only a small share of the spending will occur in 2009, even though Keynesians would argue that stimulus spending should be frontloaded to kick-start growth. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the largest share of the spending will occur in 2010, with the amount in 2011 being slightly larger than in 2009. Again, the timing exacerbates the problem: It will be tough to cut back on spending written into budgets as far out as 2011.(…)It’s a bit odd that the reaction by the Obama administration and some congressional leaders to a policy that has not worked is to consider putting a similar policy in place. One interpretation is that this is yet another opportunity to spend more on programs that Democrats have wanted for years.It may be the case that the country wants more government, that Americans now believe the European model of big government is best. That is a decision that society must make. But it should do so with no illusions: The current stimulus and calls for a future one are primarily government growth policies, not strategies to shorten the current recession.
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