You Can’t Spend Your Way Out of the Crisis

WSJ had an interesting article on New Zealand Prime Minister, John Key. A former foreign-exchange trader, he takes supply-side approach to the global recession.

“We don’t tell New Zealanders we can stop the global recession, because we can’t,” says Prime Minister John Key, leaning forward in his armchair at his office in the Beehive, the executive wing of New Zealand’s parliament. “What we do tell them is we can use this time to transform the economy to make us stronger so that when the world starts growing again we can be running faster than other countries we compete with.”

That idea — growing a nation out of recession by improving productivity — puts Mr. Key and his conservative National Party at odds with Washington, Tokyo and Canberra. Those capitals are rolling out billions of dollars in stimulus packages — with taxpayers’ money — to try to prop up growth. That’s “risky,” Mr. Key says. “You’ve saddled future generations with an enormous amount of debt that then they have to repay,” he explains. “There is actually a limit to what governments can do.”

In the 1980s, New Zealand’s government implemented a wide-ranging program of economic liberalization, including deep reductions in tariffs and subsidies, and privatization of state-run industries. The plan, nicknamed “Rogernomics” after then-Finance Minister (now Sir) Roger Douglas, was akin to Reaganomics, and the island nation grew smartly.

But while the U.S. and Australia broadly continued their economic liberalization programs under both right- and left-wing governments, New Zealand didn’t — until now. Over the past nine years, Helen Clark’s left-wing Labour government rode the global economic expansion and used the revenue surge to expand government welfare programs, renationalize industries, and embrace causes like global warming. As a result, the economy stagnated while Australia took off.

Mr. Key’s program focuses first on personal income tax cuts, which — given that the new top rate, as of April 1, will be 38% — are still high, especially when compared to Hong Kong and Singapore. “We just think it’s good tax policy to lower and flatten your tax curve,” he says. “People will move in labor markets and they look at their after-tax incomes.”

Cutting the corporate tax rate — which is now 30% — isn’t as crucial just now as keeping liquidity flowing, Mr. Key argues. “A lot of [companies] won’t pay tax if they don’t make money,” he reasons. “So they might be slightly less focused on corporate tax in the immediate future. Longer-term, they will be.” Why? Corporate money is “mobile.” “If you really are out of whack with the prevailing corporate tax rates, and there’s been a global shift toward countries lowering their corporate tax rate, then you’re not likely to attract capital, or you’re likely to lose capital.” Mr. Key and his coalition partner, the ACT Party — Mr. Douglas’s party — want to eventually align personal, trust and company tax rates at 30%.

But ultimately, Mr. Key says his biggest fear is rising inflation on the back of rising money supplies. “Economic theory will tell you that inflation is going to rise — and that inflation will be exported around the world. . . . In the short term, I’m not criticizing U.S. policy: I think inflation is probably the thing that’s going to be necessary to get them out of the current issue. [Federal Reserve Chairman Ben] Bernanke sort of signaled that. But longer term, inflation is cancerous to your economy.”

Another person who agree that spending doesn’t help bring us out of the recession is Peter Schiff. He thinks that reducing the size of the government is what will do that job. He also think that letting the big financial firms fail would actually help the economy!

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