Feb 14 2009
Will the stimulus package “crowd-out” private investment and reduce long-run growth potential in America?
The February 9th edition of the excellent NPR show, Planet Money reported on a letter sent from the director of the Congressional Budget Office to the Senate, forecasting the short-run and long-run macroeconomic effects of the House Stimulus Package.
It turns out the director of the CBO has his own blog on which he published his letter to the Senate. Here are some highlights:
CBO estimates that the Senate legislation would raise output by between 1.4 percent and 4.1 percent by the fourth quarter of 2009; by between 1.2 percent and 3.6 percent by the fourth quarter of 2010; and by between 0.4 percent and 1.2 percent by the fourth quarter of 2011. CBO estimates that the legislation would raise employment by 0.9 million to 2.5 million at the end of 2009; 1.3 million to 3.9 million at the end of 2010; and 0.6 million to 1.9 million at the end of 2011…
Most of the budgetary effects of the Senate legislation would occur over the next few years. Even if the fiscal stimulus persisted, however, the short-run effects on output that operate by increasing demand for goods and services would eventually fade away. In the long run, the economy produces close to its potential output on average, and that potential level is determined by the stock of productive capital, the supply of labor, and productivity. Short-run stimulative policies can affect long-run output by influencing those three factors, although such effects would generally be smaller than the short-run impact of those policies on demand.
In contrast to its positive near-term macroeconomic effects, the Senate legislation would reduce output slightly in the long run, CBO estimates, as would other similar proposals. The principal channel for this effect is that the legislation would result in an increase in government debt. To the extent that people hold their wealth in the form of government bonds rather than in a form that can be used to finance private investment, the increased government debt would tend to “crowd out” private investment—thus reducing the stock of private capital and the long-term potential output of the economy.
The negative effect of crowding out could be offset somewhat by a positive long-term effect on the economy of some provisions—such as funding for infrastructure spending, education programs, and investment incentives, which might increase economic output in the long run. CBO estimated that such provisions account for roughly one-quarter of the legislation’s budgetary cost. Including the effects of both crowding out of private investment (which would reduce output in the long run) and possibly productive government investment (which could increase output), CBO estimates that by 2019 the Senate legislation would reduce GDP by 0.1 percent to 0.3 percent on net.
The fascinating thing about this letter from the Congressional Budget Office to the Senate is that it mentions so many of the Macroeconomic principles we teach in both AP and IB Economics.
- The nation’s potential output (PPC) is “determined by the stock of productive capital, the supply of labor, and productivity”.
- Fiscal stimulus’ effects, while possibly significant in the short-run, may result in less long-run growth due to “crowding-out” of private investment as the public puts its savings into government debt and takes it out of the market for loanable funds.
- A stimulus package should be made up of “funding for infrastructure spending, education programs, and investment incentives, which might increase economic output in the long run.” The negative effects of crowding-out could be offset through responsible government spending.
I find this letter to be surprisingly positive. The short-run forecast seems optimistic: as much as 3.6% GDP growth and as many as 3.9 million new jobs by the end of 2010. The negative growth effects of the stimulus resulting from increased government debt and the subsequent “crowding-out” of private investment are not predicted to set in until 2019.
I always tell my students that humans are “short-run creatures living in a long-run world”. I have to admit, this short-run creature is inclined to think that a stimulus package that puts nearly 4 million people to work and turns the US Economy back onto a path towards growth within two years is probably worth the long-run risk of sluggish growth ten years down the road due to the decline in private investment resulting from the debt-financed spending today.
This letter from the CBO also seems to address a debate recently undertaken in the AP Economics teacher email list: whether deficit-financed government spending affects the supply of or the demand for loanable funds in the economy.
To the extent that people hold their wealth in the form of government bonds rather than in a form that can be used to finance private investment, the increased government debt would tend to “crowd out” private investment—thus reducing the stock of private capital and the long-term potential output of the economy.
This passage from the director’s letter indicates that it is the supply, not the demand for loanable funds that shifts, driving up real interest rates in the economy. Savers will take their money out of banks and other lending institutions and put it in government bonds, reducing the amount of capital available for private investment. This can be illustrated as a leftward shift of the supply of loanable funds.
- In evaluating the use of expansionary fiscal policy, we learn in IB Economics that the crowding-out of private investment will reduce the expansionary effect of increased government spending. Is crowding-out a problem during a recession? Why or why not?
- Discuss the following statement: “In order to finance its budget deficit, the US government must borrow from the private sector.” How does the government borrow from the American people?
- Will fiscal stimulus in the short-run lead to increased growth or decreased growth in the long-run? Discuss.
About the author: Jason Welker teaches International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement Economics at Zurich International School in Switzerland. In addition to publishing various online resources for economics students and teachers, Jason developed the online version of the Economics course for the IB and is has authored two Economics textbooks: Pearson Baccalaureate’s Economics for the IB Diploma and REA’s AP Macroeconomics Crash Course. Jason is a native of the Pacific Northwest of the United States, and is a passionate adventurer, who considers himself a skier / mountain biker who teaches Economics in his free time. He and his wife keep a ski chalet in the mountains of Northern Idaho, which now that they live in the Swiss Alps gets far too little use. Read more posts by this author
200 Responses to “Will the stimulus package “crowd-out” private investment and reduce long-run growth potential in America?”