President Obama created big expectations last week for the speech where he announced his new jobs plan. Remarkably, his rhetoric came close to fulfilling them. But what about the actual plan he sent to Congress on Monday? If it were to be enacted in its current form (which it won’t), would it have a shot at turning around the economy? As it turns out, there are definitely some things to like in Obama’s roadmap, even while there are some very big warning signs as well. On the plus side, President Obama asked for a sizable package.
This article is a contribution to 'Is There Anything That Can Be Done? A TNR Symposium On The Economy.' Click here to read other contributions to the series. Most adults know that there is no Santa Claus. They should also know that there was no stock market crash associated with Standard and Poor’s downgrade of U.S. government debt. However, because powerful interests want to spread misinformation about the downgrade, people are likely to be much better informed about Santa Claus.
The Labor Department reported that the economy created 117,000 jobs in July and revised the prior months’ growth slightly to bring the average over the last three months to 72,000 jobs per month. This rate of job growth is below the 90,000 a month needed to keep pace with the growth of the labor force. Consistent with this fact, the employment to population ratio (EPOP) fell slightly to 58.1 percent, tying its previous low for the downturn.
Economists believe that people respond to incentives. The fact that economists never suffer career consequences for failing to consider new ideas explains why they so rarely consider any policy that has not long been in the standard bag of tricks. I mention this background since it is relevant to the reaction given a proposal on the debt ceiling that Ron Paul originally put forward and that I subsequently endorsed. Paul suggested that the Fed could destroy the $1.6 trillion in government bonds that it now holds as a way of getting room under the debt ceiling.
Representative Ron Paul has hit upon a remarkably creative way to deal with the impasse over the debt ceiling: have the Federal Reserve Board destroy the $1.6 trillion in government bonds it now holds. While at first blush this idea may seem crazy, on more careful thought it is actually a very reasonable way to deal with the crisis. Furthermore, it provides a way to have lasting savings to the budget. The basic story is that the Fed has bought roughly $1.6 trillion in government bonds through its various quantitative easing programs over the last two and a half years.
When the financial system was on the edge of melting down back in the fall of 2008, there was much talk in the punditocracy of a second Great Depression. The story was that we risked repeating the mistake at the onset of the first Great Depression: allowing a cascade of bank failures that both destroyed much of the country’s wealth and left the financial system badly crippled.
For more coverage of the debt commission report, read Jonathan Chait and Jonathan Cohn. Senator Alan Simpson, the chairman of the bipartisan deficit commission, spent much of his life scolding people for being dependent on Social Security and Medicare and complaining that they didn’t save enough. Now, based on the draft proposal released yesterday, it appears that he and his co-chairman Erskine Bowles never departed from this attitude in steering their thinking. Given the state of the economy, the co-chairs’ report reads like a document from Mars.
The latest unemployment statistics show a much worse story than had been previously accepted. The Obama administration is now projecting that the unemployment rate will average 10 percent this year, 9 percent in 2011, and more than 8 percent in 2012. It is not projected to get back to a more normal rate until 2016. The severity of the problem would easily justify another stimulus package as large or larger than the one passed last year. Instead, it looks like we are going to get a $15 billion jobs package based on a proposal from Senators Charles Schumer and Orrin Hatch.