We’re not broke — we’ve been robbed
Thu Nov 28, 2013
With the Friday the 13th December deadline for a federal budget deal, the cries of “we’re broke,” and “we can’t afford to keep spending,” are ringing again. But we’re not broke and acting like we are is making us poorer.
One of the biggest common misunderstandings is that governments are like households, which need to tighten their spending when times are tough. Actually, governments and households work in opposite ways.
Governments can and should spend more when times are tough. Government spending makes up for lack of spending by families and businesses, and it helps get the economy moving by getting people back to work, putting money in their pockets, and contracting with businesses.
If we needed a reminder of that, the recent government shutdown gave us one. Journalists reported story after story about how business was down, as federal workers were laid off and national parks closed. The estimates are that even though the shut down only lasted 16 days, it cost the economy $24 billion.
We need government spending and investment to get the entire economy moving forward. When families are back at work with decent wages, government tax revenues will rise and spending on social supports will fall. That’s when government can reduce spending without slowing down the economy.
During the past two years we’ve reduced the deficit by half, close to 2008 levels. That may sound like it’s a good thing, but it’s really the biggest reason the economy is so lackluster for the vast majority of Americans with a near-record-high in unemployment, stagnant wages, and a smaller proportion of Americans working than any time in the past 30 years.