Alan Blinder has an Op-Ed in the Journal Today. In it, he lays out four “myths” about the deficit. This is the second:
• Myth No. 2 is that America’s deficit problem is so acute that government spending must be cut right now, despite the struggling economy. And any fiscal stimulus, even the payroll-tax extension, must be “paid for” immediately.
Wrong. Strange as it may seem with trillion-dollar-plus deficits, the U.S. government doesn’t have a short-run borrowing problem at all. On the contrary, investors all over the world are clamoring to lend us money at negative real interest rates. In purchasing-power terms, they are paying the U.S. government to borrow their money!
We should accept more of these gracious offers and use the funds to finance pressing needs for jobs programs, infrastructure projects, even mortgage foreclosure mitigation. And because the U.S. really does have a humongous long-run deficit problem, we can and should commit now to paying for any such spending many times over—but later. For example, it would be smart to borrow, say, another $500 billion this year and then pay for it, say, 10 times over, with $5 trillion in deficit reduction spread over 10 years—starting, say, in 2014.
For a man who has spent as much time advising Washington as Blinder has, one would think that there would be a little less naivete in his piece. Here Blinder acknowledges the long-term problem, but says in the short-term we should borrow more heavily on the theory that in the long-term we will pay down the debt by reducing spending. Just once, I’d like to see someone writing one of these “spend now/pay later” pieces cite some actual evidence that a decision by government to spend more today on the theory that it will be paid for by responsible fiscal policy in the future has actually been carried through to its conclusion. We always get the first piece of the equation, but never the second. Every Congress is sovereign, and the actions of Congress today do not bind the Congress of ten years from now. There is no way to enforce long-term thinking, nor is there much evidence that it actually goes on. If Blinder, or anyone else is a position of influence, is going to advise a public policy prescription to a pressing national concern, it would be nice if the prescription was tailored to the government as it actually operates, not as he would like it to operate.