If tomorrow is irrelevant
You're at home on a lovely winter evening. Snow falls gently outside as you pour a glass of your favorite beverage to enjoy as you relax by the fire. But you soon discover that you have no firewood inside. To get some firewood, you must walk outside.
“To heck with that,” you mutter impatiently. You instead grab a chair from the dining-room table, toss that chair into the fireplace and use it to create a glorious, warming fire.
Of course, when your spouse returns home, you are roundly criticized for being so childishly — indeed, idiotically — shortsighted that you destroyed a valuable asset merely to spare the few minutes and modest effort it would have taken you to retrieve firewood from the backyard.
Although you did get the charming fire you desired, the price you paid to avoid being inconvenienced was far too high. We might forgive a 3-year-old for such myopic irresponsibility, but by the time kids get to kindergarten, even they understand the importance of considering the future in addition to the present.
Governments, on the other hand, routinely sacrifice their subjects' economic future in order to irresponsibly avoid immediate detriments.
Deficit spending is one key way that governments supply extra goodies for current voters without having to immediately inconvenience anyone. The bill for paying the debt comes due in the future. And because many future voters aren't yet born, passing the buck — or the trillions of bucks — in this way is especially easy to do.
This political reality gives a great deal of unfortunate credence to Keynesian economics — the antiquated brand of economics resurrected in fake-scientific garb by John Maynard Keynes in the 1930s.
Keynesians assure business people, politicians and voters that the dominant problem with the economy is inadequate spending. If tomorrow doesn't matter, then this assurance makes sense. Because artificially jacking up demand today yields relief today, that's all that matters if tomorrow is irrelevant.
If tomorrow doesn't matter, only calloused ideologues indifferent to suffering would oppose any policy that brings relief today at the expense of tomorrow. Only the most cold-hearted eggheads would suggest that today's high unemployment might reflect problems with the economy that run deeper than inadequate spending — problems that require time to solve in ways that assure the economy's long-run health. Only the sadistic would oppose plans to relieve pain today on the grounds that such plans will make things worse tomorrow. Tomorrow, remember, doesn't matter.
So spend today. Spend a lot. And keep spending until all workers are employed today. As long as unemployment is high, don't worry that spending today is excessive. Just as using — spending — a valuable dining-room chair as firewood today isn't excessive if tomorrow doesn't matter, using resources today to maintain today's pattern of economic activity and employment isn't excessive if tomorrow doesn't matter.
Today. Here and now. That's the focus of self-described “practical” pundits and politicians — the latter of whom have especially strong incentives not to look past the next election. For such pragmatic folk, monetary and fiscal policies aimed at improving tomorrow appeal only to ideologues and misanthropes if those policies do not yield maximum possible benefits today.
Donald J. Boudreaux is a professor of economics and Getchell Chair at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. His column appears twice monthly.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Reagan shooter Hinckley closer to permanent freedom
- Steelers won’t be backed into a corner at NFL Draft
- Crosby’s 2 goals lift Penguins past Rangers, even series
- Sutter steps up for Penguins in series-tying victory
- Fights reported, shots fired outside Monroeville Mall restaurant
- Starkey: Taylor’s type fading away
- Penguins notebook: Johnston says Perron needs to shoot
- Transportation challenges rife as Pittsburgh focuses on making fixes
- Coming off hill revives Seton Hill University, downtown Greensburg
- Crosby says Edmonton would be good spot for prospective top pick McDavid
- Governor Wolf’s outreach to lawmakers contrasts with Corbett’s style