Death by 1000 cuts: The economics of innocent subversion

Even NY Fed Chief Bill Dudley, well aware of his role as a manager of expectations, is worried:

Dudley Headlines:


Last I heard Congress agreed cut $38 billion in spending from this year’s budget as a ‘down payment’ on reducing the federal deficit.

Followed by every economic forecaster on Wall St. and Main St. reducing estimates for this years’s GDP by maybe 1/2% or more. (These are people who get paid to be right, and not to produce propaganda.)

I have no problem with cutting wasteful and unnecessary spending, but when we have this kind of shortage of aggregate demand said cuts would be more than matched with either tax cuts and/or other spending increases, to sustain aggregate demand.

(Aggregate demand is the total spending, private and public, that supports employment and output).

The proposals are now to get to work on more serious deficit reduction- maybe $5 trillion over the next 10 years, or about $500 billion or so per year.

Ask your favorite forecasters what that does to GDP. I’ll guess they’ll tell you it would be a proactive reduction of more than 3% per year. Plus multipliers. And maybe a 50% increase in unemployment as the output gap skyrockets from already insanely high levels.

In other words, maybe 10 years of negative growth, unless private sector (including non residents) spending somehow increases at least by that much.

For domestic sector spending to increase to fill what my mate Bill Mitchell likes to call the spending gap, there would need to be an increase in private sector debt (which is likewise measured as a drop in private sector savings).

With today’s credit conditions, I don’t see where that could possibly come from. Borrowing to spend on houses and cars- the traditional engine of consumer growth- rising to levels sufficient to close the output gap seems highly unlikely. Particularly when federal deficit reduction is cutting incomes and savings.

For the foreign sector (non residents) to fill that spending gap, the trade gap would have to somehow stop going up and suddenly drop down by that amount. Not impossible, but a very ugly process (for us)- massive decline in our real terms of trade, etc.- should that actually happen.

So why is this happening? Why are we drinking the hemlock?

Because both sides- Democrats and Republicans- have it all dead wrong.

They both agree the federal deficit is too large and is a dire threat to our well being.

When, in fact, the exact opposite is the case- the output gap/unemployment is telling us- screaming at us- that the federal deficit is too small, and that Congress should be arguing over whether they should cut taxes and/or increase spending.

(And throw in an energy policy, and fast, but that’s for another post).

But because they think we could be the next Greece and face a federal funding crisis, they continue to work to turn us into the next Japan with two lost decades- and worse.

It’s either ignorance or subversion, so let me take the liberty to again borrow from John Kenneth Galbraith and call it innocent subversion.

“The worst part is that, because both sides have no clue about the real functioning of the monetary system, they have both been hard at work misinforming the public. And, since they both watch and react to daily polling numbers, unless something is done, they will continue to react to the reflections of their own ignorance.”

Atty Donovan Hamm