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Linking Debt Ceiling Hike to Spending Cuts is 'Good Economics'

9:15 AM, May 19, 2011 • By MARK HEMINGWAY
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Stanford economics professor and Hoover Insitution Fellow John B. Taylor argues that having the debt ceiling tied to spending cuts will bolster economic confidence and government credibility:

For months now top economic officials in Washington have been arguing that the Congress should vote to increase the debt limit without any reductions in the growth of spending—in other words a “clean debt limit hike.” Just last Thursday Ben Bernanke compared linking the debt limit and spending reductions to playing a game of chicken with U.S. credit worthiness, adding “I think using the debt limit as a bargaining chip is quite risky.” CEA Chairman Austan Goolsbee and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner have been saying much the same thing.

But these arguments do not take account of important economic advantages of linking the debt limit to spending reductions. Such a link is good economics in theory and in practice. It is essential to a credible return to sound fiscal policy and an end to the ongoing debt explosion.

Here’s why. In the current political and economic environment—where more people than ever in the United States and around the world are aware of, and paying attention to, the country’s debt problem—the decision about the debt limit will be precedent-setting. They also know that government spending has increased rapidly in recent years, rising from 18.2 percent of GDP in 2000 to over 24 percent now. If Washington does not change the budget game now, people will sensibly reason, it will never change the game. If politicians just increase the debt limit now when spending has been growing so rapidly compared to revenues without correcting that rapid growth of spending, then they will be expected to do so in the future. In contrast if they tie any increase in the debt limit to a halt in the explosion of spending, then people will be more likely to expect them to control spending in the future. Linking the debt limit vote with spending establishes a precedent and valuable credibility.

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