Rational Expectations and Jobs and Progressives

Rational Expectations is the economic theory that people act rationally, by and large and in their aggregate, in their decisions in the market place.  That is, even in the face of incomplete information, people generally form logical predictions about their future, and they act in a logical manner within the framework of their predictions.  Of course, information used in those logical predictions includes government’s actions in the market and people’s own view of what those actions will produce, independently of what government officials might aver.  And of course, in the face of incomplete information, mistakes are inevitable, both individually and across the economy.

The Progressives in government, despite the empirical evidence to the contrary from FDR’s failed Keynesian spending and Obama’s Keynesian Stimulus Act in 2009, instead insist that government spending is stimulative in and of itself, and government taxing is irrelevant to Americans: we will make no predictions from government spending, and we’ll simply accept the taxes as part of our environment; we’ll form no rational expectations of the future from these actions.

Against this backdrop, what are we to make of the Obama Jobs Bill just defeated in the Senate?  Here are the essential components of the Obama proposal:

  • $175 billion in new spending,
  • included in this was $44 billion to cover an extension of unemployment insurance even beyond the present 99 weeks of paying people for not working,
  • a further reduction in the employee’s payroll tax, a parallel reduction in the payroll tax of employers whose payrolls are $5 million per year or less, with this payroll tax reduction set to expire in 15 months, and
  • a permanent surtax of 5.6% on millionaires.

In the Progressive fantasy economics world, employers were to rush right out and hire workers, knowing that just having them on the payroll 15 months from now, their payroll tax cost of these new employees will double.  Never mind that it takes that long in a modern economy for an employer to begin to recoup the hiring and training costs of a new employee and for the employee to become productive.

Also in this world, the new employees in their temporary jobs, and existing employees with their temporary increase in take-home pay, will run right out and spend that money on everything they’ve ever wanted, and the stimulus is carried through.

Finally, in this fantasy world, the millionaires will simply not respond to their new tax: they’ll keep right on doing whatever it is they so nefariously do with their ill-gotten gains.

Here’s what rational expectations says Americans will do, and what we already did, for instance, with Stimulus I in 2009 and with the prior temporary payroll tax reduction (and the one time payments from the Economic Recovery Payment program and the Making Work Pay tax credit).  The fourteen people nationwide who actually got jobs out of Stimulus I did increase their spending, but not by much: they used as much of their windfall as they could to cut into their debts, which had increased sharply as they tried to cover necessary expenses while having no income.  We didn’t spend those payroll tax reductions, knowing they were impermanent—knowing, even, how short-lived they were.  We didn’t spend those one-time payments, either.  Instead, we saved them against future needs, trying to rebuild our savings, or we paid down our debt.  Employers didn’t hire, accurately predicting into the future that those temporary reductions would expire and their costs would expand suddenly and sharply.

The 99 weeks of unemployment payments already have led to a level of extended unemployment duration unmatched in decades: nearly 45% of those currently out of work have been in that state for more than 6 months.  As any freshman Econ student understands, when government subsidizes a thing, government gets more of that thing.  And so it would have been with the proposed extension in unemployment insurance beyond those 99 weeks.

And those millionaires with their shiny, new tax?  They were going to do what any rational human being does: adjust their incomes and investments so as to mitigate the effect of that tax: these job producers, these owners of businesses, were going to reduce their exposures—and not hire more workers in the process.  Those would have been permanent adjustments to their permanent new tax.

These rational responses to temporary government actions were such a complete shock to the Progressives since Stimulus I and those one-time “stimulative” payments that they simply denied the responses occurred.  This is why the Obama jobs bill, thankfully defeated in yesterday’s vote, was proposed in the first place, and why it was structured as nothing more than Stimulus I Reduced.

This Progressive move is part and parcel with their attitude toward the intelligence of the workaday American: we’re just too stupid to think for ourselves.  We’re not capable of behaving rationally.  This is also demonstrated by their mantra that our problem, the reason we don’t just blithely follow them over the cliff, is that we’re too stupid to understand their message.  They must keep adjusting how they communicate with us because we just didn’t get it the first time.  Or the second.  Or the umpteenth.  And so, since we’re too dumb to form rational expectations, their interminable Keynesian spending is perfectly sound economics.

Progressives actually argue, with a straight face, that their programs have saved or created millions of jobs.  Here’s one example of how well that’s actually worked, in the Progressives’ precious “green jobs” milieu, and how honestly their accounting has been done.

Finally, no Progressive (or modern Conservative, come to that) has been able to show that the “recovery” currently in “progress” is due to the “stimulus” bill passed in 2009, or due to the stupendous Federal spending and even more stupendous Federal borrowing, generally, or to some combination of these.  They cannot offer any evidence that whatever anemic recovery might be in progress is due, instead, to an ordinary, normal business cycle recovery.  A recovery that has, in fact, been held back by all of that spending and borrowing, just as the nascent economic recovery in 1937 died shortly after birth from the Federal spending and borrowing and free market interference of FDR.

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