But, if we do build the bridge by taking tax money away from somebody else, and using that to pay the bridge builder -- the guys who work on the bridge -- then it's just a wash. It has no first-starter effect. There's no reason to expect any stimulation. And, in some sense, there's nothing to apply a multiplier to. (Laughs.) You apply a multiplier to the bridge builders, then you've got to apply the same multiplier with a minus sign to the people you taxed to build the bridge. And then taxing them later isn't going to help, we know that.
Hat tip to Brad DeLong who is worried that Chicago-School economists believe certain falsehoods such as:
deficit-financed spending increases have no short-term stimulative effects on nominal spending
Since Kevin Quinn noted that Wikipedia’s discussion of Ricardian Equivalence had the same error, let’s see how Wikipedia describes the balanced budget multiplier:
Since only part of the money taken away from households would have actually been used in the economy, the change in consumption expenditure will be smaller than the change in taxes. Therefore the money which would have been saved by households is instead injected into the economy, itself becoming part of the multiplier process. In general, a change in the balanced budget will change aggregate demand by an amount equal to the change in spending.
Not only does this sound much more logical than what Professor Lucas claimed, it is also what is typically described in most economic textbooks. As long as the marginal propensity to consume is less than unity, there is something to apply a multiplier to. So might Professor Lucas explain to us why he thinks the marginal propensity to consume is equal to unity – especially when we are talking about temporary increases in government purchases and their implications for taxation over the long-run?