Wednesday, December 03, 2008

How much will Larry Summers use his brilliance and how much will he simply twist with the political winds?

David Henderson observes:
In fiscal year 1993, the deficit was 3.9% of GDP, and for this fiscal year, as noted, it will be at least 3.3% of GDP. Yet, virtually all of Clinton's advisers, including Summers, wanted to cut the deficit, not increase it. Perhaps the difference is that the unemployment rate was so low then that increasing the deficit would have, in their Keynesian way of looking at things, "overheated the economy." Well, no, not quite. In fact, the unemployment rate in November 1992, the latest month for which they would have had data, was 7.4%. The most-recent unemployment rate for the current U.S. economy, by contrast, was 6.5%, almost one whole percentage point lower.

Why the difference? The main one, I believe, was political. President-elect Clinton had just won a tight election in a three-way race with then-President Bush and Ross Perot. Perot's major issue had been the importance of reducing the budget deficit, and he had touched a nerve in the American voting public. Perot had emerged with 19% of the vote, even after having suspended his campaign briefly, and he had even received more votes than Clinton in one state, Utah. Obama, by contrast, had no credible opposition that was talking about the budget deficit. Even if John McCain was a critic of budget deficits, he never presented a credible plan for reducing them.

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