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Brooks Wilson's Economics Blog: Vernon Smith on Continued Stimulus Spending

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Vernon Smith on Continued Stimulus Spending

The Great Recession was caused by the bursting of a housing bubble inflated in part by government policy that encouraged home lenders to lower credit standards.  Good politics require a government response to counter the recession even if policy has limited value.  Vernon Smith, the 2002 Nobel Laureate in Economics, adds his voice to the debate about the effectiveness of stimulus spending in the the Daily Beast ("Please, No More Government Spending!"). 
So what has been the government’s response in the current crisis? Besides spending stimulus, it was tax incentives for new home buyers and cash for clunkers if you bought a new car. All three are programs for borrowing output, homes and cars from future production and sales. Using subsidies to pump up home sales beyond what people could afford was the problem that led to the crisis. Now the problem is touted as the solution.

We are in times not seen since the Depression, when at its depth in 1934 my parents lost their Kansas farm to the bank. Such memories and the intensity of the current crisis led me and my colleague, Steven Gjerstad, to examine the last 14 recessions including the Depression. We have been surprised and dismayed to learn that in 11 of these 14 recessions the percentage decline in new house expenditure preceded and exceeded percentage declines in every other major component of GDP. Hence the sources of the current debacle are hardly new! Moreover, past recoveries in the housing market have been closely associated with recovery from recession. The latest data continue to tell us that the turnaround in housing, consumer durables, and business investment are all anemic.

Our past housing and government spending mistakes leave us with no good choices. But please no more government spending! The deficit must now be faced. Avoid any new taxes; they are unlikely to reduce the deficit without discouraging recovery.

Our best shot at increasing employment and output is to reduce business taxes and the cost of creating new start-up companies. Don’t subsidize them; just reduce their taxes even as they become larger; also reduce any unnecessary impediments to their formation. This is strongly indicated by the business dynamics program of the Bureau of Census and the Kauffman Foundation which has tracked new startup firms in the period 1980-2005. The entry of new firms net of departing firms in this period account for a remarkable two-thirds more employment growth (3 percent per year) than the average of all firms in the US (1.8 percent per year). The invigorating turmoil created by new technologies, with accompanying growth in output, productivity, and employment lead to new business formation as old firms inevitably fail. Reducing barriers to that growth encourage a recovery path which does not mortgage future output.
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