Barrynomics: Keynes Unchained

What a difference 8 years can make – if you’re interested in holding public debt.  The Obama administration leaves office just inches away from a $20 trillion dollar debt, when in 2009 that administration inherited $10 trillion in debt.  It took the US a couple hundred years to get to $10 trillion; Obama created almost that much debt in 8 years.

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Trillion-dollar deficits became the norm from 2009-2012, as “stimulus” spending was touted as the fix to everything that ails the economy.  A question never asked in those conversations might be “If federal spending fixes recessions, and federal spending goes up every year, without fail, why do we ever have recessions?”

Because the answer would be “I don’t know”, and historically there’s no correlation between increased federal spending and increases in GDP – even with federal spending as a component of GDP.  As shown below, federal expenditures continue to increase, debt increases, and GDP bounces all over the place, but in a downward direction.

Finally! Evidence that federal spending fixes everything.

Finally! Evidence that federal spending fixes everything.

In fact, in 2014 it was predicted that the shorter-term positive impacts would inevitably give over to negative growth impacts:

“In contrast to its positive near-term macroeconomic effects, ARRA will reduce output slightly in the long run, CBO estimates — by between zero and 0.2 percent after 2016,” the analysts said in their new report.

They said the cause is all of the borrowing for the $830 billion program, which dramatically boosted the federal debt.

“To the extent that people hold their wealth in government securities rather than in a form that can be used to finance private investment, the increased debt tends to reduce the stock of productive private capital. In the long run, each dollar of additional debt crowds out about a third of a dollar’s worth of private domestic capital,” the CBO estimated.

As icing on the Obama administration’s economic cake, GDP in the 4th quarter of 2016 came in at a whopping 1.9%.  For 2016, the annual rate came in at 1.6%, down from 2.6% the year before, which seems to correlate to the CBO estimates above.  So instead of going out with a bang, Barrynomics goes out with an agonized whimper.

What is interesting, though, is that there’s a correlation between incomes and deficits – but in an unexpected direction.  As deficits get bigger (meaning gov’t spends more than it takes in), incomes decrease, at precisely the time when deficit spending is supposed to improve negative income trends through stimulus spending.

So stimulus spending has a negative effect on incomes? That's not the America Joe "Recovery Summer 2009" Biden described to me. He told me I'd be able to buy a Camaro soon!

So stimulus spending has a negative effect on incomes? That’s not the America Joe “Recovery Summer 2009” Biden described to me. He told me I’d be able to buy a Camaro soon!

The smaller the deficits, the larger the incomes.  The bigger the deficits, the smaller the incomes.  Even if federal spending during recessions is designed to offset income reductions through job losses, etc, it apparently does not have that effect.  At all.

Which runs entirely counter to the basic ideas espoused by Keynes, and that federal spending (including significant deficit spending) could dampen recessionary effects in the short run, and in the longer run help grow the economy.

biden-camaro

Want to go for a ride, big fella?

But there’s no real way to account for the disparate impacts of that spending, which has to grind through the political mill and get disbursed through the bureaucracy via changes to funding, grants, etc, which then has to be actually spent by the receiving agencies.  That spending can’t ramp up to full speed on a dime, and if it’s a larger multi-year project, any benefits of that spending (through new hires and their subsequent income increases, impacting aggregate demand) would be delayed, at best, for an unknowable period of time.

Finally, because the civilian labor force participation rate is at historical lows (below), and seems to correlate to the drop in GDP, it seems that any incentives one has to drop out of the labor force – increases in unemployment benefits, expanded entitlement spending, etc – might have as its final result an unanticipated reduction in economic growth.

A reduction that would apparently come as a surprise to both Keynes and Obama.

 

gdp-and-civ-labor-force

 

Leviathan Shrugged

pacific-rim-kaiju-otachi-more

Hmmm – I wonder what a boat filled with taxpayers tastes like?

As Americans set course on a journey that would net them two presidential candidates who are the least liked in what appears to be all of history, one or two or thirty things come to mind, regarding the general irrelevance of which party wins the presidency.  Let’s start at the top.

It does not matter who the next president is:  Federal spending will continue to grow faster than the pace of inflation, or population growth, GDP growth (even with federal spending as one of its components), or the growth of my 401k.  Just taking the last 25 years or so, what is reliably and consistently growing, so much so that if it were an investment option, people would be buying it like cakes that are really hot?

Spending.  Spending is king.

fed-spend-and-gdp

“But wait!” gasps the Keynesian.  “Federal spending is needed during recessions to jump-start the economy, and reduce unemployment”.

Sure – but those dollars spent come from somewhere, in the form of taxes and borrowing, and when that happens, those dollars aren’t available for capital spending, investment, savings, etc, all of which actually creates jobs in the private sector.  It doesn’t have the net effect of taking dollars from the private sector to spend them via the public sector, which gains nothing, other than votes for office and an increase in the debt and deficit.

Unemployment increases and decreases independent of expenditures - not because of them.

Unemployment increases and decreases independent of expenditures – not because of them.

The reality is that the unemployment rate is more closely tied to the dwindling labor force participation rate than it is to federal spending – which runs counter to the standard Democrat response to any kind of recession, consisting of mostly “let’s spend even more money than usual under the guise of helping”.

spend-unemp-and-lbr-force

Participation rate goes down at roughly the same pace as unemployment, independent of increases in federal spending.

In fact, if you go back to 2000, the labor force starts dropping dramatically when, exactly?  Let me check – ah, that’s right, as soon as Barack Obama assumed the presidency.  That drop in participation accounts for nearly all the unemployment reductions since the recession started.

Recovery 2009 never looked so good! Thanks Biden!

Recovery 2009 never looked so good! Thanks Biden!

But it does, of course, get worse.  If you look at unfilled job vacancies, going back to 2001 – we still have (slightly) fewer unfilled vacancies as of 2015 as we did in 2001 or so.  Yet federal spending doubled during that time.  If you use vacancies – jobs available – as a barometer of growth, we’ve doubled federal spending for no net gain in available jobs.

unfilled-gigs-and-spend

All of which is just another reason why the person occupying the White House can speak to different policies, preferences, and budget priorities, but every year, spending goes up.  The deficits, once deemed unpatriotic due to their size by Obama, yet doubled under his presidency, and the subsequent debt, are just choices being pushed onto future generations.

Or, better stated – a reduction of choices, for them.  Because they will be footing the bill for what we spend now, and they didn’t even get a chance to vote on the lesser of two evils, whoever you might end up choosing to vote for on Election Day.  The less they have to spend, the less free they are, to make their own choices.  We are choosing for them.

In other words, Leviathan, in the form of the federal government, doesn’t care who wins.  Leviathan will continue to feed off the labor of the citizens (those still working, anyway), and the borrowed future earnings of those not even born yet.  The only way to kill this beast is to starve it, and no modern president, or presidential candidate, seems interested in taking that one sane step forward.