Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Kotlikoff’s Five Ideas to Boost the Economy

Laurence Kotlikoff has put forth 5 proposals to get us closer to full employment. Proposal #4 – “get prices and wages unstuck” – has already been rightfully criticized and his fifth proposal is fiscal contraction, which is even more absurd. But what about his first 3 proposals?

Proposal #1 is “stop paying interest on bank reserves”, which Kotlikoff argues would encourage banks to make more loans. But that is exactly the hope of any expansionary move by the Federal Reserve. The problem is not so much that the banks don’t wish to make new loans but firms are as interested in taking out loans when aggregate demand is so depressed.

Proposal #3 is in the same vein as its goal is more investment demand – “compel corporate America to invest”:

They are waiting for the economy to improve before they invest, but it won’t improve until they all do so. The president can help resolve this problem by assembling in one room the CEOs of the largest 1,000 U.S. companies and getting them to collectively pledge to double their U.S. investment over the next three years. If they all invested simultaneously, they would immediately create much of the demand needed to make their investments worthwhile.

Presidential jawboning as an inducement to increase investment? By the same logic – passing the President’s bill to increase public infrastructure investment would generate a similar self sustaining recovery. But then Kotlikoff rejects fiscal stimulus with this incredibly silly claim:

The president’s new-yet-familiar jobs bill entails more spending and more tax cuts, neither of which is affordable absent new revenue.

Which leaves us with his proposal #2:

President Barack Obama could call on the workers and shareholders in these companies to voluntarily hire 7.5 percent more workers and do everything possible to maintain the higher level of employment going forward. How, one might ask, would all the new workers be paid? Existing employees could agree to a 7.5 percent wage cut in exchange for immediately vested shares of their companies’ stock of equal value.

I leave it to others to discuss how his creative proposal might work.


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