Ryan Avent Asks Why David Brooks Has a Job
It is a very good question. Ryan Avent:
Deficit reduction: David Brooks doesn't inspire confidence: David Brooks' column.... I think it's a total mess.... [I]t's meant, I think, to be about fiscally responsible ways to invest in America's future. But... odd detours.... The piece begins with a rumination on the effectiveness of last year's stimulus plan.... Mr Brooks then transitions:
Voters, business leaders and political leaders do not seem to think that the stimulus was such a smashing success that we should do it again, even with today’s high unemployment.... In times like these, deficit spending to pump up the economy doesn’t make consumers feel more confident; it makes them feel more insecure because they see a political system out of control...
This kind of armchair psychologising is Mr Brooks' stock and trade. I have to say, I find it annoying and logically wanting.... [T]he problem is a lack of demand, not some imagined looming American debt crisis. And meanwhile, markets stubbornly refuse to demonstrate concern about American borrowing. Given that markets are just made up of lots of people, it's difficult to rationalise the placid market reaction to American borrowing with widespread fear over same.... Mr Brooks then cites economist Alberto Alesina.... But Mr Brooks ignores the paper's nuances. Among them are the point that deficit reductions are stimulative on the demand side thanks to reductions in interest rates. But of course, high interest rates are the least of America's worries at this point. Mr Alesina points to fiscal adjustments that take place over many years, and which involve structural reforms (rather than just the decision to forego stimulus amid economic weakness)....
Mr Brooks then writes:
So the challenge for the U.S. in the years ahead is to consolidate intelligently. That means reducing deficits while at the same time making the welfare state more efficient, boosting innovation in areas like energy, and spending more money on growth-enhancing sectors like infrastructure.
So why, then, did this column devote its first half to complaints about stimulus? The column concludes with a plea to cut middle-class entitlement spending and invest in infrastructure. And I certainly hope that America takes steps over the next decade to slow growth in health spending, to address structural obstacles to growth, and to invest in public goods like infrastructure and basic research. Those steps, alongside some tax reform, will go a long way toward fixing the long-run budget picture, which is all anyone should really be worried about. In the very short term, demand remains a problem, and markets are practically begging for more safe debt to hold. And if individuals are scared about the size of the deficit, it's probably because lazy journalists keep nattering on about it, though they consistently fail to make the case that an immediate fiscal retrenchment is at all desirable.
Why oh why can't we have a better press corps?