Mankiw_Multiplier - Economic View - A Dose of Skepticism on...

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January 11, 2009 ECONOMIC VIEW Is Government Spending Too Easy an Answer? By N. GREGORY MANKIW WHEN the Obama administration finally unveils its proposal to get the economy on the road to recovery, the centerpiece is likely to be a huge increase in government spending. But there are ample reasons to doubt whether this is what the economy needs. Arguably, the seeds of the spending proposal can be found in the classic textbook by Paul A. Samuelson, “Economics.” First published in 1948, the book and others like it dominated college courses in introductory economics for the next half-century. It is a fair bet that much of the Obama team started learning how the economy works through Mr. Samuelson’s eyes. Most notably, Lawrence H. Summers , the new head of the National Economic Council, is Mr. Samuelson’s nephew. Written in the shadow of the Great Depression and World War II, Mr. Samuelson’s text brought the insights of John Maynard Keynes to the masses. A main focus was how to avoid, or at least mitigate, the recurring slumps in economic activity. “When, and if, the next great depression comes along,” Mr. Samuelson wrote on the first page of the first edition, “any one of us may be completely unemployed — without income or prospects.” He added, “It is not too much to say that the widespread creation of dictatorships and the resulting World War II stemmed in no small measure from the world’s failure to meet this basic economic problem adequately.” Economic downturns, Mr. Keynes and Mr. Samuelson taught us, occur when the aggregate demand for goods and services is insufficient. The solution, they said, was for the government to provide demand when the private sector would not. Recent calls for increased infrastructure spending fit well with this textbook theory. But there is much to economics beyond what is taught in Econ 101. In several ways, these Keynesian prescriptions make avoiding depressions seem too easy. When debating increased spending to stimulate the
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Mankiw_Multiplier - Economic View - A Dose of Skepticism on...

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