Checker Finn describes my critique of his neo-Hooverite views on education policy and the stimulus bill as a “particularly dated defense of Keynesianism,” and asserts that borrowing money to prevent pro-cyclical mass layoffs and deep cuts in state and local education spending amounts to “Stalin-style job creation.”
This is a case of conventional wisdom failing to adjust to the reality of current events. Over the last few decades, it’s become fashionable among some on the right to use “Keynesianism” as an implicitly derogatory term. Then the housing bubble burst, the stock market collapsed, the credit markets froze, and the world was on the brink of economic catastrophe. All of a sudden, Keynes looked pretty good! To understand this, Paul Krugman’s New York Times Magazine article is a good place to start, or, if you don’t trust liberal Times columnists, see also Richard Posner’s recent article in the New Republic, “How I Became a Keynesian.” Or just listen to everything Ben Bernanke has said over the 14 months. I suppose it’s possible that Checker Finn knows more about the best way for the federal government to borrow and spend money in the teeth of an economic meltdown than a guy with Ph.D. in economics from M.I.T. who taught at Stanford and Princeton and specialized in studying the Great Depression before chairing the Council of Economic Advisors and being appointed by a Republican president to succeed Alan Greenspan at the Fed. But I kind of doubt it.
Also, and it’s weird that this even needs to be said, there’s an obvious difference between the government creating “make-work” jobs and saving jobs that already existed. And, just to be clear, creating “make-work” jobs is in fact a perfectly reasonable thing to do–not that that’s what the stimulus bill did–when the goal is to stimulate the economy. That’s what got this country out of the Great Depression after all, the massive government jobs program that was World War II. And while borrowing money to build tanks and bombs that get blown up overseas does nothing to improve long-term national prosperity–they’re gone and can’t be used again–investing in the nation’s human capital, i.e. teaching, actually does.