Since the seventh anniversary of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act – the “stimulus” – was this week, it was a good time to ask, “Who Do You Want In The White House When The Next Recession Comes?”
On Friday, Ed Dolan, writing in Nouriel Roubini’s EconomMonitor, answers: Definitely not Marco Rubio.
Dolan fleshes out the argument that our post made earlier this week about the kind of economic decision-making any rational person would want to have in the White House in the event of an economic downturn. And he concludes that in the case of Rubio (and other Republicans, for Dolan notes Rubio’s views are “widely shared” within the GOP), “the federal government would be legally bound to allow the economy to drift rudderless onto the rocks.”
That’s because Rubio – and for that matter all of the Republican presidential candidates – don’t have a firm grasp of Economics 101.
If you remember your basic college econ course, you’ll know that the first line of defense against a recession is fiscal policy. When the economy goes into a slump, spending rises on unemployment compensation, food stamps, and other benefits. At the same time, tax receipts, which are linked to income, decrease. Because the spending increase plus the tax decrease automatically cushion the slump, economists call them automatic stabilizers.
If you’re a true Keynesian, automatic stabilizers aren’t enough. You add some discretionary fiscal stimulus in the form of road projects and maybe a temporary tax rebate. If the timing is right, that softens the recession even more and speeds the recovery.
But Rubio, as Dolan notes, is a staunch supporter of a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. (So is Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, Ben Carson and John Kasich.)
It sounds like a sensible idea, until you think about it. But then, you see that the idea of balancing the federal budget every year is nuts. It would mean that when the economy went into a slump, pulling tax revenues down, Congress would have to enact across the board emergency spending cuts to keep a deficit from emerging. The cuts would quickly hit jobs and household budgets. Consumer spending would fall, firms would cut output to fight ballooning inventories. Without the automatic stabilizers, a mild recession would turn into a tailspin.
But Rubio would not stop there, Dolan goes on to write. Rubio also wants to constrain the ability of the Federal Reserve to stimulate job creation – one half of its dual mandate to keep both unemployment and inflation low.
Here is what [Rubio] said about the Fed in this week’s South Carolina town hall:
That’s not the Fed’s job to stimulate the economy. The Fed is a central bank, it is not some sort of overlord of the economy. They’re not some sort of special Jedi Counsel that can decide the best things for us.
The Fed is a central bank. Their job is provide stable currency and I believe they should operate on a rules based system. They would have a very simple rule that determines when interest rates go up and when interests rates go down.
So just what is this “simple rule” Rubio is talking about? He provides the details elsewhere. His rule would replace the Fed’s dual mandate with a single mandate to prevent inflation. The Fed would be required to raise rates to stop inflation during a boom, but it would be barred from doing anything when unemployment soars during a recession.
That is why it behooves us to ask pointed questions of the presidential candidates about what they would do if the U.S. faced an economic downturn on their watch. Chances are, if they are reading from the same economic playbook that Marco Rubio uses, they would turn the next recession into the next Great Depression.