Summers on growth and stimulus - Barokong

Larry Summers has an important, and 95% excellent, Financial Times column. Larry is especially worth listening to. I can't imagine that if not a main Hilary Clinton adviser he will surely be an eminence grise on its economic policies. He's saying loud and clear what they are, so far, not: Focus on growth.

The title "the progressive case" for growth, is interesting enough. Perhaps Larry now uses the word "progressive" to describe himself. More importantly, Larry's audience here is the Clinton campaign and the Democratic party. He's saying loud and clear: you're not paying enough attention to growth, and growth ought to be at the center of the party, and the new Administration's, economic plans.

...many people, in their eagerness to focus on fairness, neglect the single most important determinant of almost every aspect of economic performance: the rate of growth of total income,
Hooray. Not only is this vitally important and factually correct, a growth oriented policy, if sold without the usual demonization, could well attract bipartisan support. That sentence could come from Paul Ryan's a better way

Alas, Larry blows that spirit right off the bat with a sentence that take a gold medal for convoluted calumny and bombastic bulverism:

Because those who champion strategies that centre on business tax-cutting and deregulation and favour the wealthy have placed the most emphasis on growth over the past 35 years, the objective of increasing growth has been discredited in the minds of too many progressives.
Translated into something approximating English: because people whose only and base motive was "favoring the wealthy" happened to advocate growth to sell their (as later described) useless tax-cutting and deregulation strategies, the goal of growth has become tarnished in the minds of good progressives.

This is below Larry -- in person I have always known him to recognize that conservatives and free-marketers have exactly the same dispassionate goal, advocate growth primarily to help the less well off, and tax-cutting and deregulation as time-proven policies that improve growth.  But, again, his audience is to the left, so perhaps one can excuse some I-hear-you agreeing with common demonizations.

But then he gets to well written and praiseworthy work, so good I must quote it in entirety:

It can hardly be an accident that the decades of maximum growth, the 1960s and 1990s, also saw the most rapid job growth and most rapid increase in middle-class living standards.

Growth provides the wherewithal for increased federal revenue and so encourages the protection of vital social insurance programmes such as Social Security and Medicare....

Tight labour markets are the best social programme, as they force employers to hire and mentor inexperienced people in order to be adequately staffed. Some years ago, I estimated that for each 1 per cent point increase in adult male employment, the employment of young black men rose 7 per cent. More recent research confirms economic growth has an outsized benefit for younger people and minorities.

Rising growth has other benefits, as well. It strengthens the power of the American example in the world. It obviates the need for desperation monetary policies that risk future financial stability. Greater growth also has historically operated to reduce crime, encourage environmental protection and contributes to public optimism about the country that our children will inherit.

The reality is that if American growth continues to have a 2 per cent ceiling, it is doubtful that we will achieve any of our major national objectives.

If, on the other hand, we can boost growth to 3 per cent, interest rates will normalise, middle-class wages will rise faster than inflation, debt burdens will tend to melt away and the power of the American example will be greatly enhanced.

...the vast majority of job creation and income growth comes from the private sector. If the next president is lucky enough to oversee the creation of 10m jobs from 2017-20, more than 8m of them will surely come from businesses hiring in response to profit opportunities.
All true, excellent, well-stated, and bipartisan (at least for the pre-Trump era). Jeb Bush's 4%, Paul Ryan's opportunity society agree totally. Heck, even Gary Johnson might find little to quibble with here. If growth could be the mantra for the Hilary Clinton administration, and if Larry can persuade his fellow "progressives," great things could follow.

And now to the remaining 5%:

There is no case for reducing already low corporate taxes or removing regulations unless it can be shown that these have costs in excess of benefits.

What is needed is more demand for the product of business. This is the core of the case for policy approaches to raising public investment, increasing workers’ purchasing power and promoting competitiveness. No case? Really? The higher taxes, steadily more convoluted tax code, vast expansion of regulation (Dodd-Frank, Obamacare are just the start) that coincided with our epic slow growth, have nothing at all to do with that sorry experience?   There is absolutely nothing wrong with the microeconomics of the American economy and its vast administrative, judicial and regulatory state, we just need a bit more "demand?"

Leave aside the last 30 years of growth theory, which is silent on "demand," we can do nothing better than move around 1970s era IS and LM curves, and revive ideas from the 1930s?

Read the second paragraph carefully. "More demand" is the ""core of the case for policy approaches to raising public investment, increasing workers’ purchasing power and promoting competitiveness."

That "more demand" is the "core of the case" for (The Federal Government to borrow a lot of money and spend it on things labeled as) "public investment" admits up front that the actual value of such investment is at best secondary. Public investment in a great Ice Wall of Westeros on the southern border, or for high-speed trains from Tonopah to Winemucca, do just as well in boosting "demand."

What is needed is a serious negotiation: Fund needed infrastructure investment, but put in serious cost-benefit analysis,  buy it at reasonable prices, and so forth. That negotiation should start by abandoning the whole idea that we're doing it to provide "jobs" and "demand." If you're not wiling to do that, at least be honest and state that Mr. Trump's wall provides the same "demand."

Then explain to us how Japan has been at this for 20 years, producing no great shakes of growth.

"policy-approaches to... increasing worker's purchasing power" is another classic hidden-subject clause. I presume it means [The Federal Government, by legislation, regulation, or threat, will force companies to pay workers more, and then control employment to make sure those companies don't just fire workers or select better ones in order to ] increase [some] worker's purchasing power." Gary Johson's program also increases worker's purchasing power, and I don't think that's what Larry has in mind. I'm also curious where in modern economics forced transfers increase employment and long-run growth.

But in context, this is a small complaint. If Larry can persuade Mrs. Clinton and the "progressives" in the Democratic Party to focus on growth, to state goals for growth, and to hold themselves accountable for growth, then we can have an honest and very productive conversation about what's stopping growth and what steps can further it.

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