Saturday, January 19, 2008

Blinder on Fiscal Stimulus

From a few years ago, here is a nice survey from Alan Blinder on the use of fiscal policy as a tool to combat the business cycle. His bottom line:

So my overall conclusion runs something like this. Under normal circumstances, monetary policy is a far better candidate for the stabilization job than fiscal policy. It should therefore take first chair. Nothing in this paper is intended to dispute this piece of conventional wisdom. That said, however, there will be occasional abnormal circumstances in which monetary policy can use a little help, or maybe a lot, in stimulating the economy—such as when recessions are extremely long and/or extremely deep, when nominal interest rates approach zero, or when significant weakness in aggregate demand arises abruptly. To be prepared for such contingencies, it makes sense to keep one or more fiscal policy vehicles tuned up and parked in the garage, and perhaps even to adopt institutional structures that make it easier to pull them out and take them for a spin when needed.
The relevant question is whether the current situation, with unemployment at 5 percent and a consensus near-term growth forecast of about 1 percent, qualifies as one of these "occasional abnormal circumstances."