The administration’s second assumption, meanwhile, is a matter of academic theories about the sizes of the relevant economic multipliers. Textbook Keynesian economics tells us that government-purchases multipliers are larger than tax-cut multipliers. And, as we have seen, the Obama administration’s economic team consulted these standard models in deciding that spending would be significantly more effective than tax cuts.
But a great deal of recent economic evidence calls that conclusion into question. In an ironic twist, one key piece comes from Christina Romer, who is now chair of Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers. About six months before she took the job, Romer teamed up with her husband and fellow Berkeley economist David Romer to write a paper (“The Macroeconomic Effects of Tax Changes”) that sought to measure the influence of tax policy on GDP. Crucial to the Romers’ method was their effort to identify changes in tax policy made during times of relative economic stability, and driven by a desire to influence economic behavior or activity (to encourage growth, say, or reduce a deficit), rather than those changes made in response to a recession or crisis. By studying such “exogenous” tax-policy changes, the Romers could be more confident that they were in fact measuring the effects of taxes and not those of extraneous conditions.
The Romers’ conclusion, which is at odds with most traditional Keynesian analysis, was that the tax multiplier was 3 ”” in other words, that every dollar spent on tax cuts would boost GDP by $3. This would mean that the tax multiplier is roughly three times larger than Obama’s advisors assumed it was during their policy simulations.
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