Let’s wait to cut the deficit

Now is not the time. Unemployment is still near 10 percent in the United States and in Europe. Tax cuts and spending increases stimulate demand and raise output and employment; tax increases and spending cuts have the opposite effect. This is a basic message of macroeconomics and a central feature of public- and private-sector forecasting models. Immediate moves to lower the deficit substantially would likely result in a 1937-like “double dip” as we struggle to recover from the Great Recession.

Some advocates of austerity argue that, contrary to the conventional view, fiscal tightening now would lower long-term interest rates and improve confidence so much that the impact could be positive. But an ambitious new study in the World Economic Outlook of the International Monetary Fund confirms that fiscal consolidations — that is, deliberate deficit reductions — typically reduce growth substantially…

True believers might say we should never wait, because a slow-growing tumor could turn virulent. But we need to think about actual risks. Today, markets are willing to lend to the American government at the lowest 20-year interest rate since 1958. In the crisis of 2008 and 2009, money flowed to the United States because it was seen as the safest spot in the storm. There is no evidence that we have to act immediately.