Policymaking in a Pan(dem)ic

Stephaie Kelton has a Substack article Policymaking in a Pan(dem)ic.

Talking about the 2020/2021 pandemic recovery, she made the following comments:

We did better this time not because we got better policy from the Federal Reserve. Indeed, we got mostly the same thing we got after 2008—i.e. zero interest rate policy (ZIRP) and massive bond-buying (QE). We did better because Congress delivered not one, not two, but three substantial pieces of legislation that actively supported the economy with around $5 trillion in additional spending.

And so, once again, Deficits Saved the World. But this time deficits didn’t increase mainly due to Congressional inaction—i.e. the automatic stabilizers—but because of the proactive—i.e. discretionary—actions of Congress and the White House.

Did they get everything right? No. Did we need all $5 trillion? Probably not. Could some of that spending have been better targeted? You bet. Should some of it have been set to phase out sooner? Probably.

But remember that the three biggest packages ($2.2 trillion in March 2020, $900 billion in December 2020, and $1.9 trillion in March 2021) were all passed in middle of a global pandemic. For better or worse (I think it was for the better), lawmakers decided it was preferable to err on the side of doing too much as opposed to doing too little.

In the future, we should try to avoid cobbling together multi-trillion dollar fiscal rescue packages in a state of panic. One way to do that is to begin to strengthen our automatic stabilizers. An old rule of thumb advised drivers to consider replacing the shock absorbers in their vehicle every 50,000 miles or so. When it comes to our economic shock absorbers, we’re long overdue for an upgrade.

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