It is necessary to consider the impact of the bail-out and the conditions necessitating it on federal budget policy. The idea seems to have taken hold in recent days that because of the unfortunate need to bail out the financial sector, the nation will have to scale back its aspirations in other areas such as healthcare, energy, education and tax relief. This is more wrong than right. We have here the unusual case where economic analysis actually suggests that dismal conclusions are unwarranted and the events of the last weeks suggest that for the near term, government should do more, not less.
First, note that there is a major difference between a $700bn (€479bn, £380bn) programme to support the financial sector and $700bn in new outlays. No one is contemplating that the $700bn will simply be given away. All of its proposed uses involve either purchasing assets, buying equity in financial institutions or making loans that earn interest. Just as a family that goes on a $500,000 vacation is $500,000 poorer but a family that buys a $500,000 home is only poorer if it overpays, the impact of the $700bn programme on the fiscal position depends on how it is deployed and how the economy performs.
The American experience with financial support programmes is somewhat encouraging. The Chrysler bail-out, President Bill Clinton’s emergency loans to Mexico, and the Depression-era support programmes for housing and financial sectors all ultimately made profits for taxpayers. ...
Second, the usual concern about government budget deficits is that the need for government bonds to be held by investors will crowd out other, more productive, investments or force greater dependence on foreign suppliers of capital. To the extent that the government purchases assets such as mortgage-backed securities with increased issuance of government debt, there is no such effect.
Third, since Keynes we have recognised that it is appropriate to allow government deficits to rise as the economy turns down if there is also a commitment to reduce deficits in good times. ...
Indeed, in the current circumstances the case for fiscal stimulus — policy actions that increase short-term deficits — is stronger than at any time in my professional lifetime.
Wednesday, October 1, 2008
Larry Summers on TARP
Larry Summers, Harvard economist and former U.S. Treasury Secretary under Bill Clinton, gives his thoughts on the proposed bailout: