Truly Stimulating the Economy

     Much has been made of the American Recovery and Reinvestment act, also known as the stimulus. It’s positives, its negatives, economic numbers that say it’s working and numbers that say it is not. One thing is for certain, it is not living up to the hype. The problem for me is that nobody is coming out and explaining why. We see lots of conjecture from the liberal side about jobs saved, greater economic ruin averted, and several other positive spins put on it, and, of course, the Republicans talking about how much it cost, how it hasn’t helped the way we were told by Obama it would, and how they have this other set of ideas they want to do. But no “Why?” Why has it failed to do what was expected of it? Was it a bad idea? Was it ill-conceived? Exactly where did this stuff come from anyway? Nothing. Not from the mainstream media. Not from the economists. Not from the bloggers worldwide. Not a word. In addition, there is no real answer to what we should be doing now, or what we should have been doing to help keep this from happening and lessen its impact if it did. Certainly, the other ideas being called for now is no better. Cutting government spending in the middle of a recession, as Conservatives have called for, is at least as irresponsible as running up massive government debt. Every dollar that the government does not spend is a dollar that is not flowing through the economy. Cutting taxes to the rich in an attempt to induce hiring doesn’t fare well either. Businesses don’t hire more people out of the goodness of their hearts or just for the heck of it. They hire because they need more people to fill the demand for the goods and services the company is offering. Not a lot of demand is created by essentially giving more money to people who already have enough money to buy whatever they want.The American Recovery and Reinvestment act type of economic stimulus is not a new invention, and certainly not something that the Obama administration pulled out of thin air, nor is it some obscure thing. It is a sound economic recovery plan that has been used multiple times, mostly, until now, with great success. As well, we do not stand alone in its use. Countries as diverse as China, Germany, and the United Kingdom have implemented similar measures in response to this global economic crisis. Differences occur only in the precise amounts going to different measures, like unemployment benefits, infrastructure spending, and tax cuts, as well as fiscal measures including lowering interest rates and loans to banks to attempt to open up more lending.

     These types of stimulus measures are part of a macroeconomic theory based on the ideas of 20th century English economist John Maynard Keynes. In short, Mr. Keynes posits that the free market is too volatile on its own, so it is the job of government, in the interest of its citizens, to help smooth out the rise and fall of the economy. The government would achieve this goal by spending more and lowering interest rates when the economy goes down and spending less and raising interest rates when the economy goes up, with the goal being to achieve a relatively steady expansion of the economy and lessen the impacts of huge swings upward creating bubbles and huge swings downward when those bubbles burst. There are many books and websites on Keynesian economic thought which give a much more thorough and accurate explanation, but that is the basic “definition” that governments utilizing it are currently operating under.

     Keynesian stimulus of an economy in recession is supposed to work by placing more money into the economy. If the government repairs a road or builds a new bridge, it puts people to work. Those people then have money to spend which increases demand for goods and services. Demand which must be filled by people producing those goods and offering those services, inevitably requiring more people working to fulfill that demand, which then creates more demand. Thus begins a continuous cycle of demand creating more demand creating more employment. Which brings us to Keynesian economics downfall through globalization. If all the goods and services that you buy come from outside of the economy you live and, hopefully, work in, the stimulus ends there. If the corn that goes into your corn flakes and the strawberries in your fruit smoothie come from somewhere in South America, your Levi jeans are made in Mexico, and your kid’s toys come from China, whose job are you supporting? Certainly not your own or your neighbor’s job.

     Keynesian economics at its base is “built” for a closed economy. Certainly, there is such a thing as “Global” or “International” Keynesianism, but it is as of yet not fully realized as an economic theory and would be extremely hard to implement given the various political climates worldwide and the economic aims of individual countries. Nevertheless, Keynesian economics is “broken” by globalization. More precisely, it is broken by the particular type of globalization that currently exists in our world. A globalization in which the cost of living and income differences is so vast and the environmental standards and other regulations are so different that some places are chosen over others simply because the cost of doing business there is vastly less.

     It’s not the fault of your average consumer. At least not directly. It is, more directly, the fault of our government and governments of various countries we trade with which have laws and trade agreements that create certain conditions, and of individual companies that utilize those conditions, all to the detriment of us “average” citizens, both here and abroad.

     Companies have actively sought to lower pay and benefits for their workers as well as reduction of their workforce in the interest of the bottom line. This is not evil or wrong of them. Every advantage that can be used to increase the profits of their company and get a leg up on their competition should be used. Having a greater profit margin makes for a stronger business, more able to weather temporary setbacks and take on greater levels of expansion in good times, and is a hallmark of our free market economy. It does create a problem though. Logically, fewer employees and lower pay for remaining employees eventually results in fewer and fewer people being able to afford the products those companies make. In addition, companies are now faced with global competition which can utilize a workforce that requires a far lower pay rate in order to meet their standard of living, resulting in companies further requiring workforce and pay reductions until productivity can go no higher and wages no lower. At such a time either the company goes bankrupt or moves production outside of the country utilizing the lower wages present in places like China, Taiwan, and Mexico. We simply cannot compete with a global workforce whose cost of living is so much lower than ours. And when what jobs we have and wages we make so quickly go outside of the country, economic stimulus simply will not work.

     A major change in direction must take place. We cannot continue in a situation where the people who make our products and offer services we need are increasingly in other countries instead of here at home. There are no simple answers to reversing this course either. At least in the details. There are some overarching things we can do though. In order for our workforce to compete we must reduce some of the many advantages that the workforce in other countries have over us.

     One of those advantages is that their pay and their cost of living is dramatically lower than ours. The workers in other countries needs often cost less, and they can simply get by with less. In addition, the regulations in place here in this country are simply prohibitive when compared to the regulations present in other countries. This is not a call for a lowering of our living standard or a call for loosening our regulations. Our standard of living has been the standard that people around the world have aspired to for generations, our regulations are there to protect both the workers and the consumer. To lower either of them would be a great mistake. Perhaps there is room to streamline those regulations, to make it easier for companies to meet them, and less costly both for companies to follow and also for our governmental agencies to enforce them, but to remove those regulations is to invite greater levels of injuries to workers and consumers, and also greater environmental disasters to ruin our natural resources. It would be much more preferential to raise the standards in other countries, to create better working conditions and raise wages for workers worldwide. I understand this would be a hard sell in any political climate, and would require huge amounts of work. Existing treaties would have to be renegotiated, rules would have to be put in place regarding what must be included in new ones, governments worldwide would have to be pressured to implement regulations concerning worker and environmental safety, the list goes on. I think it would be worth it. The resultant increase in demand for products worldwide would be dramatic, less economic turmoil would result in fewer conflicts, and a general equalization of incomes and living conditions would reduce illegal immigration and curb the illegal drug trade, both of which are often born out of poverty. The possibility of reducing these costs to us and our allies, and even our current enemies, should be enough to consider a move in the direction of worldwide income equalization.

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