Thursday, March 26, 2009

Europe's Stimulus

Many people are wondering why America has opted for a large fiscal, as well as monetary, stimulus while Europe is lagging behind on both fronts.  As far as the monetary side is concerned, this seems to related to the fact that Euro policy is largely set by Germans, who are continually apologetic to the world for letting the hyper-inflation of the 1920s lead to Hitler.  Talk about closing the barn door after the tanks have blitzed away.  

But on the fiscal side, a major reason is that high levels of unemployment benefits in Europe insulate people from downward shocks, so people aren't quite as insistent that the government do something.  Whatever else you think about the rest of their social security system, this seems like the right approach to take.  People who are lose their jobs still have to meet commitments--like, say, their mortgage payments--so you can help them maintain their old standard of living.  Right now, it's a little tough to believe that these benefits are going to disincentivize work.

Of course, the great thing about the American system is that benefits can be raised during a time of crisis.  The most recent stimulus did that to an extent, but unemployment benefits still don't cover many workers who are laid off--while some of the Republican governors reject this spending entirely.  Well, the whole point of the stimulus bill was to tackle unemployment and help struggling workers--but both these goals are best achieved by giving money to the unemployed so they can maintain their consumption levels, and extending a payroll tax holiday to everyone so all workers are better off.  Rushing spending through government agencies ill-equipped to handle the spending--not quite such a direct effect.  If the unemployed still collect checks, and workers make more money after tax, then we don't even really face a crisis at all.

No comments: