“Stimulus” Did Not Stimulate

IncomeAndConsumptionGraph2009-09-17.gif

Source of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. A23) The nearby chart reviews income and consumption through July, the latest month this data is available for the U.S. economy as a whole.

Consider first the part of the chart pertaining to the spring of this year and observe that disposable personal income (DPI)–the total amount of income people have left to spend after they pay taxes and receive transfers from the government–jumped. The increase is due to the transfer and rebate payments in the 2009 stimulus package. However, as the chart also shows, there was no noticeable impact on personal consumption expenditures. Because the boost to income is temporary, at best only a very small fraction was consumed.
This is exactly what one would expect from “permanent income” or “life-cycle” theories of consumption, which argue that temporary changes in income have little effect on consumption. These theories were developed by Milton Friedman and Franco Modigliani 50 years ago, and have been empirically tested many times. They are much more accurate than simple Keynesian theories of consumption, so the lack of an impact should not be surprising.
. . .
Incoming data will reveal more in coming months, but the data available so far tell us that the government transfers and rebates have not stimulated consumption at all, and that the resilience of the private sector following the fall 2008 panic–not the fiscal stimulus program–deserves the lion’s share of the credit for the impressive growth improvement from the first to the second quarter. As the economic recovery takes hold, it is important to continue assessing the role played by the stimulus package and other factors. These assessments can be a valuable guide to future policy makers in designing effective policy responses to economic downturns.

For the full commentary, see:

JOHN F. COGAN, JOHN B. TAYLOR AND VOLKER WIELAND. “The Stimulus Didn’t Work; The data show government transfers and rebates have not increased consumption at all.” The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., SEPTEMBER 17, 2009): A23.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

Obama Should Remember that a Tariff War Helped Create the Great Depression

As an economics graduate student at Harvard, David Rockefeller was a student of Joseph Schumpeter.
After Schumpeter died, his wife spent the last few years of her life working to pull together the disorganized, but nearly completed, manuscript of Schumpeter’s magnificent History of Economic Analysis. In her preface, Mrs. Schumpeter writes: “It seems appropriate at this point to acknowledge gratefully a gift from David Rockefeller and a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation which made possible much of the secretarial and editorial assistance outlined above.” (p. x)
Below I quote a few passages from David Rockefeller’s reaction to Obama’s imposition of tariffs on Chinese automobile tires:

(p. A21) AS if he needed another policy concern to distract him from the health care debate, President Obama now finds himself embroiled in a quarrel with China over his imposition of a steep tariff on automobile tires from that country that is to take effect this week. The Chinese have responded by threatening to impose higher tariffs on American chicken. This may seem like a petty dispute, but the controversy could endanger the global economic recovery if the underlying issue — the rise in protectionism –is not resolved quickly and forcefully. Perhaps Washington has justification for increasing tariffs in this particular case, but in general it sets a bad precedent.

President Obama should resist the desire to accommodate the forces of protectionism from unions, environmentalists and cable television pundits alike. Giving in to their demands may be politically astute, but it would send the wrong message to our trading partners and, more important, inflict damage on the already weakened American economy. Despite the recent rally in the stock market, the next two or three years could still be very painful.
I lived through the stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression that followed it, and I saw that there was no direct cause and effect relationship. Rather, there were specific governmental actions and equally important failures to act, often driven by political expediency, that brought on the Depression and determined its severity and longevity.
One critical mistake was America’s retreat from international trade. This not only helped to turn the 1929 stock market decline into a depression, it also chipped away at trust between nations, paving the way for World War II.

For the full commentary, see:
DAVID ROCKEFELLER. “Present at the Trade Wars.” The New York Times (Mon., September 21, 2009): A21.
(Note: the online version of the commentary is dated Sun., Sept. 20.)

Free-Market German Aristocrat Receives Ovation for Opposing Bailout

(p. A7) BERLIN — Could the heir apparent to Chancellor Angela Merkel be a wealthy, handsome 37-year-old baron who loves rock ‘n’ roll?

The baron, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, vaulted to prominence this year when he took over the often dull job of economics minister in the midst of the financial crisis. His independent stand on a thorny economic matter earned him the respect of voters.
. . .

It was his independent streak that earned him the respect of voters, rather than just their curiosity. Mr. Guttenberg broke ranks with Mrs. Merkel over how to handle the troubled German automaker Opel. Mrs. Merkel supported a consortium led by Magna International, a Canadian auto parts maker, and Sberbank, a Russian bank. Mr. Guttenberg favored bankruptcy, and even offered to resign just months into his tenure.
He lost the battle, but gained credibility with voters — an important commodity with a disenchanted electorate that has largely ignored the coming vote. At the big kickoff campaign rally in Düsseldorf for Mrs. Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union, Mr. Guttenberg was the only politician to receive a spontaneous ovation from the crowd of 9,000.

For the full story, see:
NICHOLAS KULISH and JUDY DEMPSEY. “Aristocrat’s Rise Shakes German Doldrums.” The New York Times (Weds., September 22, 2009): A7.
(Note: ellipsis added.)