Published: March 4, 2012
The economic news is looking better lately. But after previous false starts — remember “green shoots”? — it would be foolish to assume that all is well. And in any case, it’s still a very slow economic recovery by historical standards
There are several reasons for this slowness, with the most important being the overhang of household debt that is a legacy of the housing bubble. But one significant factor in our continuing economic weakness is the fact that government in America is doing exactly what both theory and history say it shouldn’t: slashing spending in the face of a depressed economy.
In fact, if it weren’t for this destructive fiscal austerity, our unemployment rate would almost certainly be lower now than it was at a comparable stage of the “Morning in America” recovery during the Reagan era.
Notice that I said “government in America,” not “the federal government.” The federal government has been pursuing what amount to contractionary policies as the last vestiges of the Obama stimulus fade out, but the big cuts have come at the state and local level. These state and local cuts have led to a sharp fall in both government employment and government spending on goods and services, exerting a powerful drag on the economy as a whole.
One way to dramatize just how severe our de facto austerity has been is to compare government employment and spending during the Obama-era economic expansion, which began in June 2009, with their tracks during the Reagan-era expansion, which began in November 1982.
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