One of the most influential investors in the world of finance has a message for lawmakers — particularly conservative lawmakers — on Capitol Hill: rejoin the real world.
In a prospectus for clients, Bill Gross, a co-founder of investment management giant PIMCO, says members’ of Congress incessant focus on deficit — and in particular, the manner in which they obsess about deficits — is foolhardy, and a recipe for disaster. What the country needs, Gross said, is real stimulus now, and a measured return toward fiscal balance in the years ahead.“Solutions from policymakers on the right or left, however, seem focused almost exclusively on rectifying or reducing our budget deficit as a panacea,” Gross writes. “While Democrats favor tax increases and mild adjustments to entitlements, Republicans pound the table for trillions of dollars of spending cuts and an axing of Obamacare. Both, however, somewhat mystifyingly, believe that balancing the budget will magically produce 20 million jobs over the next 10 years. President Obama’s long-term budget makes just such a claim and Republican alternatives go many steps further. Former Governor Pawlenty of Minnesota might be the Republicans’ extreme example, but his claim of 5% real growth based on tax cuts and entitlement reductions comes out of left field or perhaps the field of dreams. The United States has not had a sustained period of 5% real growth for nearly 60 years.”
Both parties, in fact, are moving to anti-Keynesian policy orientations, which deny additional stimulus and make rather awkward and unsubstantiated claims that if you balance the budget, “they will come.” It is envisioned that corporations or investors will somehow overnight be attracted to the revived competitiveness of the U.S. labor market: Politicians feel that fiscal conservatism equates to job growth. It’s difficult to believe, however, that an American-based corporation, with profits as its primary focus, can somehow be wooed back to American soil with a feeble and historically unjustified assurance that Social Security will be now secure or that medical care inflation will disinflate. Admittedly, those are long-term requirements for a stable and healthy economy, but fiscal balance alone will not likely produce 20 million jobs over the next decade. The move towards it, in fact, if implemented too quickly, could stultify economic growth. Fed Chairman Bernanke has said as much, suggesting the urgency of a congressional medium-term plan to reduce the deficit but that immediate cuts are self-defeating if they were to undercut the still-fragile economy.
Emphasis added. Gross recommends a swift, deficit-financed investment in infrastructure. “[G]overnment must take a leading role in job creation,” Gross said. “Conservative or even liberal agendas that cede responsibility for job creation to the private sector over the next few years are simply dazed or perhaps crazed…. In the near term, then, we should not rely solely on job or corporate-directed payroll tax credits because corporations may not take enough of that bait, and they’re sitting pretty as it is. Government must step up to the plate, as it should have in early 2009. An infrastructure bank to fund badly needed reconstruction projects is a commonly accepted idea, despite the limitations of the original “shovel-ready” stimulus program in 2009.”
Unfortunately for Gross and those who share his concerns, the fight over the debt limit seems driven by Republicans hungry for long-standing ideological victories and Democrats cowed into an anti-stimulus fervor whipped up by the right. To many observers it appears that fixing the currently broken economy isn’t really what this is about.