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Brooks Wilson's Economics Blog: Feldstein on Obama Administration's Economic Policy

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Feldstein on Obama Administration's Economic Policy

(HT Mankiw) Martin Feldstein was a chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors under President Reagan and is a professor of economics at Harvard.  In "Missing the Target," a Wall Street Journal opinion article, he agrees with the Obama administration's conclusions that government intervention was needed but thinks that the interventions were ill designed.  He describes the impact of the interventions as follows
...despite the talented team of economists in the administration, most of the president's economic policies have done little to help the problem. And indeed, many of these policies have created even more problems than they solved.
He enumerates several interventions a specific problems with their design.
...the president allowed congressional Democrats to design the $787 billion stimulus package. The result was an unnecessarily large increase in the national debt for a very modest rise in gross domestic product, with too much emphasis on redistributing income and preserving public-sector jobs and not enough on raising economic activity. Only about one-fourth of the nearly $800 billion will be used for government spending that adds directly to GDP. In contrast, the funds given to households will be largely saved or used to pay down existing debts. And the dollars that went to state governments relieved pressure to use their "rainy day" funds or levy temporary tax increases.

The flaw in the stimulus package wasn't, as some say, that it was too small. It was that it was poorly targeted. Instead, Congress and the president could have gotten more stimulus from accelerating the repairing and replacing of equipment in the civilian and defense sectors. Long-term reductions in marginal tax rates of the type used by Presidents Kennedy and Reagan would also have been better than temporary tax cuts that have no positive incentive effects.

Other programs by the administration have had similar failings. "Cash for clunkers," for instance, was successful in raising auto buying and gave a temporary boost to GDP, since two-thirds of the third-quarter GDP rise was motor-vehicle production. The credit for first-time home buyers also gave a temporary boost to the housing market. But both programs just borrowed demand from the future...

Local banks around the country have cut back business lending because they fear future losses on existing real-estate loans. The administration's plan to prevent mortgage defaults by helping millions of homeowners reduce their monthly mortgage payments fizzled down to helping just a few hundred thousand. Moreover, nothing was done to reduce the incentive to default among the 15 million homeowners whose mortgages now exceed the value of their homes. And nothing has been done to deal with the $1.5 trillion of distressed commercial real-estate loans that will have to be rolled over during the next five years.

The administration's plan to induce local banks to sell impaired loans to nonbank investors so that they could start lending again was well intentioned. But it failed, despite generous proposed subsidies, because banks don't want to reduce their accounting capital.

Although solving the banking and real-estate problem is key to recovery, the president's focus on his health legislation and the public's concern about future deficits appears to have stopped him from dealing with these problems...
Feldstein ends by expressing concern over the administration's "legacy of debt:" both larger deficits and national debt.

1 comment:

  1. Patricia Gager1/2/10 4:42 PM

    Unfortunately, the current administration's focus seems to be on how fast they can push their agendas through,rather than applying the resources in areas that would best benefit the economy as a whole. It's difficult to see where any cutbacks are within the Obama administration considering the additional $3.8 trillion budget sent to Congress today to create new jobs and spending on the wars. There seems to be no end in sight for the continious spending spree at the taxpayer's expense, yet our economy is still in serious decline.