And if Government Had Just Hired 14 Million People, There Wouldn't Be Any Unemployment at All!


New York Times biz/econ columnist David Leonhardt drops some science on "the cost of austerity":

In round numbers, state and local governments have cut about a half million jobs over the last two years. If they had continued to hire at their previous pace — expanding as the population expanded — they would have added about a half million jobs.

In other words, the state and local austerity of the last two years has cost the economy about one million jobs.

By this logic, the U.S. economy after World War II would have lost many millions of jobs, resulting in economic catastrophe. Instead, the David Leonhardts of the time were not decisive in policy decisions. Here's Arnold Kling, writing about this for Reason last November:

[T]he Keynesians who were gaining prominence in the economics profession warned that a rapid decline in government spending and the size of the public work force would produce, in the late economist Paul Samuelson's words, "the greatest period of unemployment and dislocation which any economy has ever faced."

Thankfully, Truman ignored the Keynesians. Government spending plummeted by nearly two-thirds between 1945 and 1947, from $93 billion to $36.3 billion in nominal terms. If we used the "multiplier" of 1.5 for government spending that is favored by Obama administration economists, that $63.7 billion plunge should have caused GDP to fall by $95 billion, a 40 percent economic decline. In reality, GDP increased almost 10 percent during that period, from $223 billion in 1945 to $244.1 billion in 1947. This is a rare precedent of a large drop in government spending, so its economic consequences are important to understand.

The end of World War II thrust more than 10 million demobilized servicemen back into the labor market, but without the catastrophic consequences Keynesians feared. Close to 1 million took advantage of the GI bill to attend college. In addition, some of the increase in the male work force was offset by a decline in female labor force participation from World War II levels. But if Rosie the Riveter became a housewife, many of her friends continued to work outside the home. Over all, from 1945 to 1947 the civilian labor force increased by 7 million, or 12 percent. The vast majority found work, as civilian employment rose by 5 million, an increase of 9 percent.

More (including similar examples in Canada and New Zealand) here.

Leonhardt link via the Twitter feed of The Nation's Chris Hayes. Take it away, Reason.tv!