by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Washington has enacted tax cuts and spending increases that are likely to push the federal budget deficit past the $1 trillion annual mark. That’s not unprecedented, of course. But that previous ocean of red ink washed up on the capital markets in the past decade in the wake of the worst financial crisis and economic downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s. The current shortfall comes as the expansion nears its ninth anniversary and while the economy is at full employment, by conventional measures.
In the Bible, long before John Maynard Keynes, Joseph advised the pharaoh to save surplus grain from bumper harvests for the inevitable droughts and famines. That earned him the pharaoh’s gratitude and admiration. Accumulation of surpluses has gone out of fashion since modern economic advisors and their central bankers discovered they can borrow unlimited sums paid for with electronically “printed” money to produce what they expect to be perpetual prosperity.
Indeed, at the cutting edge of economic thinking is Modern Monetary Theory, or MMT, which essentially says that sovereign governments, as monopoly issuers of their currency, can issue all they want to pay for bridges, education, defense, or whatever. … MMT advocates claim that any inflation can be controlled by hiking taxes, so the government takes away the excess dollars it created in the first place. (That money’s value should be stable, and the notion that markets, rather than the government, should power the economy, are archaic to MMT advocates.)
Current fiscal policy breaks with history, as well. “In the past, as the economy strengthens and the debt burden increases, Congress has responded by raising taxes and cutting spending. This time around, the opposite has occurred,” write Alec Phillips and Blake Taylor, economists at Goldman Sachs, in a research report.