Will Wilkinson has been ridiculing macroeconomics for the last few weeks for the apparent inability of theory to provide a consensus view on the stimulus package. While I admit that there is a great deal of debate among economists about the desirability of the stimulus package, one must understand both macroeconomic theory and the nature of the debate to actually make sense of the bantering. The simple “macroeconomics sucks” mantra, while provocative, is not a legitimate criticism.
The stimulus debate is largely centered around two questions:
1. Can we create a stimulus package that will boost real GDP in the short run?
2. Can a stimulus package get us out of the recession?
The problem with the debate is that those in favor of the stimulus package answer question 2 in the affirmative while actually providing evidence for question 1. On the other hand, those who oppose the stimulus package do not believe that the it will get us out of the recession, but argue on the grounds that it cannot even boost real GDP.
I have already discussed what macroeconomic theory has to say about a potential stimulus package and so I will not belabor the point. Suffice it to say that, if designed correctly, a stimulus package could provide a temporary boost to real GDP. It will not, however, get us out of the recession.
Of course, this brings us to the actual stimulus package. The problem that we are dealing with is that what is being proposed is not based on any type of economic theory, but is rather a grab-bag of goodies to be handed out under the guise of being of the public interest. This is, of course, something that is implicitly assumed by many stimulus skeptics and ignored by many of the stimulus advocates. Nevertheless, the stimulus in its current form likely renders this debate to have been for naught.