Jindal’s Debt Analogy

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Based on the RNC’s leaked excerpts from Bobby Jindal’s forthcoming speech, this seems to be the key argument:

Democratic leaders say their legislation will grow the economy. What it will do is grow the government, increase our taxes down the line, and saddle future generations with debt. Who among us would ask our children for a loan, so we could spend money we do not have, on things we do not need? That is precisely what the Democrats in Congress just did. It’s irresponsible. And it’s no way to strengthen our economy, create jobs, or build a prosperous future for our children

The first thing to observe is that this doesn’t even begin to resemble a macroeconomic argument. The moral of Jindal’s parable, is basically that’s it’s per se wrong to implement policies that increase the national debt. That doing is “irresponsible” due to the burden it places on “our children.” But of course someone who actually believed that it’s per se wrong to implement policies that increase the national debt would have opposed the 2001 Bush tax cuts. He would have opposed the 2003 Bush tax cuts. He would have opposed the invasion of Iraq. And he would most certainly not be calling for the extension of the Bush tax cuts. But none of that sounds to me like a description of Bobby Jindal.

Which leaves us with the narrower point that “things we do not need” is actually doing all the work in the analogy. But which things? People who get laid off at a time of generally contracting employment really do need unemployment insurance money. I’m sure these people would prefer to get a job, but when the total number of jobs is decreasing that’s just very difficult. Similarly, families who qualify for food stamps are genuinely poor enough to need assistance to put reasonably nutritious food on the family table. States quite certainly do need financial assistance to avoid needing to furlough workers—cops, teachers, firefighters—and keep up their basic facilities. Everyone agrees that the country faces a shortfall in infrastructure. The overall macroeconomic situation is unquestionably poor. And nobody can deny that conventional monetary policy has nothing more to offer us. This is stuff we need. You can quibble around the margins, of course. The $500 billion or so of spending in the package isn’t the exact $500 billion in spending I would have written. But broadly speaking, it’s spending on useful stuff at a time when spending is needed.