Now Less Than Ever

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Over the weekend I flagged a blog post from Adam Ozimek called “Now Less Than Ever,” but didn’t get around to responding to it. Adam’s post is framed around this assertion from economist Russ Roberts:

[Paul] Krugman is a Keynesian because he wants bigger government. I’m an anti-Keynesian because I want smaller government. Both of us can find evidence for our worldviews.

Before I get to Adam, I just want to add a comment about this. Krugman has already defended himself in the usual way — liberals aren’t ideologically in favor of big government the same way conservatives are ideologically in favor of small government, and Keynesianism has never been about big government anyway — but I want to make another point. To the extent that Keynesianism has informed the liberal response to the financial meltdown of 2008, it’s prompted support for temporary spending increases. But this is not something that liberals are generally for. It’s just not. Outside of a recession, when was the last time you heard a bunch of lefties demanding a temporary increase in some program or another? Pretty much never. Various stripes of liberals may be in favor of various kinds of programs — national healthcare, carbon taxes, universal preschool, etc. — but the people who favor them want them to be permanent. Temporary globs of cash are very seldom on the liberal agenda.

For that reason, stimulus spending during a recession really isn’t a matter of liberals taking advantage of a crisis for liberal ends. If we’re going to allocate temporary piles of money, then sure: liberals would just as soon allocate it to stuff we support. But generally speaking, temporary spending just isn’t, and has never been, part of the liberal agenda.

Now, on to Adam. It’s easy to use a crisis like the current recession as an excuse to argue for stuff you’ve wanted all along (tax cuts, healthcare reform), but what about stuff you don’t like? “Help prove Russ Roberts’ cynicism wrong,” he says. “Tell us what favorite policies of yours we need Now Less Than Ever. These can be things that either would be downright harmful now, or that we simply shouldn’t be focusing on and aren’t as important as actual recession cures.” Sure. Here’s an example. A couple of months ago I proposed fighting the recession with a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan. But:

That’s the jobs plan. A trillion dollars to make us into a first-world country again. And as part of the enabling legislation, ask for emergency powers to temporarily streamline the regulatory red tape, interagency approval processes, environmental-impact statements, and labor rules that might otherwise keep the money from being put to work speedily.

As a mainstream liberal, I normally wouldn’t favor watering down either environmental impact reviews or labor rules, even temporarily. But the problem with infrastructure as a stimulus is that it’s slow. If we genuinely favor spending a lot of money on bridges and dams and schools to boost the economy now, we need a way to get these programs started quickly. That means making some compromises we’d normally hate.

How about you? What dearly held priorities would you be willing to (temporarily) give up in order to get the economy moving again?

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