The Critics Of Modern Macro Are Wrong, by Paul Krugman, in NY Times: It’s even worse than they think.
John Kay has a rant that I largely agree with. Yet he says this:
The debate on austerity versus stimulus, in academic circles, is in large part a debate about the validity of a property called Ricardian equivalence, which is observed in this type of model. If government engages in fiscal stimulus by spending more or by reducing taxes, people will realise that such a policy means higher taxes or lower spending in future. Even if they seem to be better off today, they will be poorer in future, and by a similar amount. Anticipating this, they will cut back and government spending will crowd out private spending. Fiscal policy is therefore ineffective as a means of responding to economic dislocation.
and proceeds to talk about the unrealism of Ricardian equivalence.
But the fact is that even if you believe in Ricardian equivalence, it doesn’t tell you that fiscal policy won’t work. Let me post this yet again:
It’s one thing to have an argument about whether consumers are perfectly rational and have perfect access to the capital markets; it’s another to have the big advocates of all that perfection not understand the implications of their own model.
So let me try this one more time.
Here’s what we agree on: if consumers have perfect foresight, live forever, have perfect access to capital markets, etc., then they will take into account the expected future burden of taxes to pay for government spending. If the government introduces a new program that will spend $100 billion a year forever, then taxes must ultimately go up by the present-value equivalent of $100 billion forever. Assume that consumers want to reduce consumption by the same amount every year to offset this tax burden; then consumer spending will fall by $100 billion per year to compensate, wiping out any expansionary effect of the government spending.
But suppose that the increase in government spending is temporary, not permanent — that it will increase spending by $100 billion per year for only 1 or 2 years, not forever. This clearly implies a lower future tax burden than $100 billion a year forever, and therefore implies a fall in consumer spending of less than $100 billion per year. So the spending program IS expansionary in this case, EVEN IF you have full Ricardian equivalence.
Is that explanation clear enough to get through? Is there anybody out there?
And the answer is that there isn’t.
The fact that these guys don’t even get the implications of their own models right tells us that the problem runs deeper than believing too much in abstract math. At some level it has to be political: they want to declare government policy ineffectual so badly that for all their vaunted modeling mojo they can’t be bothered to think it through, or listen to other people who point out their error.
The problem here is really, really deep.