Sep 01 2008

McCain and the Republicans: fiscal conservatives? Think again…

Thanks to my friend Jerry from Shanghai for posting this cartoon to his Facebook profile!

How timely, just as my year 2 IB Economics class is studying the pitfalls of expansionary fiscal policy in times of economic slowdowns. Now, many critics would say that Clinton was the luckiest president of recent decades as he happened to ride a wave of technological innovation fueled by the internet that led to unprecedented grown in income and tax revenue during the 1990s. Sustained 5% growth combined with a period of relative peace on the foreign fronts in between the two Gulf Wars allowed Clinton to balance the budget and begin putting a dent in the country’s $3 trillion deficit during his final years in office.

Along come the “fiscally conservative” Republicans and their faithful leader GWB, just in time to evaporate our budget surplus and add $6 trillion to our national debt over the next eight years. Today, after a long period of “fiscal conservatism” the debt stands at $9.3 trillion, and last year’s budget deficit of $400+ billion broke a record for the largest gap between tax revenue and government spending in US history.

Yeah, you can blame it one the times: a War on Terror costing the US roughly a billion bucks a day, a slowdown in new technology creation, diminishing returns on internet investments, out-sourcing of American industry and jobs, yada yada… but the cartoon does hold some truth. The Democratic Party, long labeled as the “tax and spend liberals”, managed to do what few other administrations have done since the ’60s in balancing the budget, proving that the old stereotype is simply wrong.

Some now consider the Democrats the fiscally conservative party, based only on the simple observation that they tend to spend closer to what they collect in taxes. The Republicans, on the other hand, have had no qualms about spending what they DON’T collect in taxes, in other words, running up huge budget deficits through borrowing from the public and abroad. Are the Republicans the an even worse incarnation of the “tax and spend liberals”? Are they the “DON’T tax and STILL spend Conservatives”?

Discussion questions:

  1. How did the Bush administration’s $160 billion “fiscal stimulus package” that sent $600 checks to every American worker demonstrate the Republican party’s willingness to deficit spend.
  2. What effect will deficit spending by the government have on interest rates and private investment in the economy? What is this effect known as?
  3. In times of weak aggregate demand, as in the US earlier this year, what sort of approach would a “supply-sider” recommend as an alternative to Bush’s deficit-financed expansionary fiscal policy?

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

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