Robert Barro vs. Robert Reich

Here is their brief and entertaining debate over the economy and short- and long-run trends.

Here’s one good bit from Barro:

The difference between now and the late ’80s and the ’90s is when there was a deficit, it provided a lot of fiscal restraint, holding down spending levels. It doesn’t yet seem to be working that way today, that’s the thing that troubles me.

Yes, Bush and the Republican Congress are at fault, but I wonder what deeper is going on. The simplest hypothesis is that politics is more competitive now and voter wishes are harder to ignore. That induces all parties to ratchet up spending, even though they know it is bad in the long run. The classic Brennan-Lomasky story is that people vote for welfare programs to feel good about themselves, whether or not they would choose those same programs as a decisive voter. We now seem to have a world where people pay lip service to free market ideals, and want to hear candidates (i.e., Bush) pander to those ideals in their rhetoric, presumably to feel good about themselves. Then everyone turns around and supports further growth in big government.

Thanks to The Sports Economist for the pointer.


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