A $1 Trillion Answer, by Joseph E. Stiglitz, Commentary, NY Times: What President-elect Barack Obama will need to do is horribly complicated but also very clear.
First, he must stop the economy from going deeper into recession. Then he needs to bring about a robust recovery, preferably in ways that support the long-term needs of the United States: by repairing our neglected public works, invigorating our technological leadership, making our society greener, fixing our health care problems, healing our social and economic divide, and restoring our social compact.
It will not be easy. President Bush’s legacy of debt and the opposition of those who benefit from the status quo present major obstacles.
There is an emerging consensus among economists that a big — very big — stimulus is needed, at least $600 billion to $1 trillion over two years. Mr. Obama’s announced goal of 2.5 million new jobs by 2011 is too modest. In the next two years, almost four million workers will enter the labor force — or would if there were jobs. Combined with the loss of employment this year, that means we should be striving to create more than five million jobs.A large stimulus package can always be trimmed later if it’s not needed… Faint measures would be foolhardy. A weaker economy will suffer lower tax revenues, more foreclosures and more bankruptcies. Once a firm is bankrupt, you can’t unbankrupt it by providing a stronger stimulus later on. …But what you do with the money counts… The money needs to be spent carefully to ensure that every dollar provides as much stimulus now as possible while also contributing to long-term growth. …Americans are rightly afraid of losing their jobs, and with that, their health insurance and their homes. We need to provide health insurance to the unemployed and to the uninsured, and we need to do it quickly, possibly through an expanded and more efficient Medicare.We also need to stem the flood of foreclosures. If we help poorer homeowners, banks will benefit, too… And we need to change the bankruptcy laws to help homeowners. …
Deregulation and the failure to adopt regulations to cover risky new financial products have contributed much to the current mess. So far, we have merely given banks more money to spend recklessly. We have done little to change the banks’ incentives or constraints. …
If the asset program is not changed and if regulations are not imposed to change the behavior of those who got us into this situation — who enriched themselves at the expense of their shareholders — then confidence will not return. Those who got us into this crisis cannot have undue influence in shaping the response.
America has great assets, including a productive labor force and the best universities in the world. None of these assets so far has been impaired by Wall Street’s follies. These strengths, coupled with a sensible and fair economic stimulus package and judicious regulation, will help our economy recover.
Originally published at the Economist’s View and reproduced here with the author’s permission.