Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Oklahoma Relief Funding: Would Robert Barro Agree with Senator Coburn?

TalkingPointsMemo notes that while Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn welcomes FEMA relief for the destruction caused by yesterday’s tornado:
Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn will seek to offset federal aid to victims of a massive tornado that blasted through Oklahoma City suburbs on Monday with cuts elsewhere in the budget. "That's always been his position [to offset disaster aid]," a spokesman told the Huffington Post Monday night. "He supported offsets to the bill funding the OKC bombing recovery effort."
Two questions: (1) has Coburn always been so consistent on the issue of offsetting surges in government spending; and (2) is this form of consistency really optimal fiscal policy? On the first – I would submit the answer is no unless Coburn demanded that the cost of the disaster known as the 2003 Iraq War be offset. On the latter – let me turn to a 1989 paper by conservative economist Robert Barro, which was published in the Journal of Economic Perspectives. The paper was entitled The Ricardian Approach to Budget Deficits and is often cited as Barro’s case for optimal tax smoothing. Barro noted that transitional increases in government spending were best handled by temporary deficits with taxes set to cover the present value of government spending over the long-run. In short, temporary increases in government spending should not be currently offset as Senator Coburn suggests. Barro often cites wars as an example of transitional increases in spending albeit wars represents very sizeable changes as compared with the more modest FEMA expenditures for any particular natural disaster. I have to admit, however, that ten years ago a few of us worried that the neocon zest for invading other nations might represent a permanent increase in government spending. And yet Republicans back then did not want to finance their zest for war with tax increases. Go figure! But back to natural disasters such as the Oklahoma tornado or Hurricane Sandy. If these were truly unusual events only temporarily raising government relief spending, I suspect Dr. Barro would disagree with Senator Coburn’s call for offsets. Then again – some have worried that we are in for a new era of more natural disasters. If the expected cost of disaster relief has risen, then the Senator may have a point. But shouldn’t the offset be in the form of higher taxes and not a cut in things like Social Security spending?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Natural disasters can be wake-up calls. And cheaper than financial disasters.