Mankiw on the Pandemic

Listen to this guy.

Harvard economist Greg Mankiw, advisor to multiple Republican Presidents and chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors to President George W. Bush, offers his thoughts on responding to COVID-19:

*A recession is likely and perhaps optimal (not in the sense of desirable but in the sense of the best we can do under the circumstances).

*Mitigating the health crisis is the first priority. Give Dr. Fauci anything he asks for.

*Fiscal policymakers should focus not on aggregate demand but on social insurance. Financial planners tell people to have six months of living expenses in an emergency fund. Sadly, many people do not. Considering the difficulty of identifying the truly needy and the problems inherent in trying to do so, sending every American a $1000 check asap would be a good start. A payroll tax cut makes little sense in this circumstance, because it does nothing for those who can’t work.

*There are times to worry about the growing government debt. This is not one of them.

*Externalities abound. Helping people over their current economic difficulties may keep more people at home, reducing the spread of the virus. In other words, there are efficiency as well as equity arguments for social insurance.

*Monetary policy should focus on maintaining liquidity. The Fed’s role in setting interest rates is less important than its role as the lender of last resort. If the Fed thinks that its hands are excessively tied in this regard by Dodd-Frank rules, Congress should untie them quickly.

*President Trump should shut-the-hell-up. He should defer to those who know what they are talking about. Sadly, this is unlikely to occur.

Mankiw’s bonafides as a conservative and a capitalist are indisputable. That he is calling for essentially unlimited government response—do whatever the hell it takes right now and figure out how to pay for it later—should be an indication of how serious the economic mess we’re entering is.

Oftentimes, if not usually, a wonk’s response to a crisis is “This demonstrates the urgency of enacting my pre-existing preferences.” When someone of Mankiw’s standing does the opposite, we should listen.

FILED UNDER: COVID-19, Economics and Business
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. mattbernius says:

    Considering the difficulty of identifying the truly needy and the problems inherent in trying to do so, sending every American a $1000 check asap would be a good start. A payroll tax cut makes little sense in this circumstance, because it does nothing for those who can’t work.

    The vast majority of US economists commenting on this event keep saying exactly this. And personally knowing people who are seasonally employed and most likely going to continue to be out of work due to COVID19 (not to mention other hourly workers whose places of employment are most likely going to suspend operations), this makes complete sense. My personal preference is $2000 (also relief on personal debt & loan payments during this crisis).

    Unfortunately, unless something has changed in the past 12 hours or so, my understanding is that President Trump is hard set on a payroll tax cut (most likely for purely reelection reasons).

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  2. Sleeping Dog says:

    Nancy, once again owns Tiny. With Munchkin, likely the last mature adolescent (all the adults are gone) in the administration, a reasonable first effort was passed this morning. Notably all but 40 rethugs signed on after a week of whining. The Senate will pass it, much to Moscow Mitch’s chagrin as the actions of house rethugs will give senate rethugs cover.

    Mankiw speaks for the responsible.

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  3. DrDaveT says:

    Great take, James. I’ve been saying for a couple of days that the effectiveness of our economic response will determine the effectiveness of our public health response — the best advice in the world and a perfect testing program won’t help if too many people can’t afford to self-isolate and keep their kids at home.

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  4. gVOR08 says:

    I think it was Mankiw of whom Krugman said, ‘He’s a good economist, a good Republican, and an honest man. Sometimes he has to settle for two out of three.’

    Trump wants a payroll tax cut. Why? He thinks it will buy him the election. Mankiw says – lets not worry about aggregate demand, lets target those who need it, but fuq that, let’s just send everyone a thousand dollars. And oh, let’s dump Dodd-Frank.

    Mankiw’s as bad as David Brooks. He plays a sensible moderate, but somehow he always ends up recommending what Republicans want. I’m almost surprised Mankiw didn’t say the checks should be imprinted – A Gift From Donald J. Trump.

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  5. mattbernius says:

    @gVOR08:

    Mankiw says – lets not worry about aggregate demand, lets target those who need it, but fuq that, let’s just send everyone a thousand dollars. […] I’m almost surprised Mankiw didn’t say the checks should be imprinted – A Gift From Donald J. Trump.

    Honestly, sending everyone a check, regardless of their current status, is the most efficient way to quickly target who needs it. Again, that’s why most economists think its the right thing to do.

    This is also not unlike having a free school lunch option available to all kids — yes, there will be free riders who take advantage of the system — but trying to administer things so that only “the people who need it get it” slows down the process and adds added bureaucracy at a time where that causes more harm than good.

    Additionally, knowing how these sorts of data driven automated systems work, its far more likely that someone deserving is accidentally flagged as undeserving and fails to get help/critical financial relief than it is for deserving people to game the system. It also would probably require putting up certain barriers that will limit access to those who are the most financially vulnerable.*

    Will the check help Trump? Possibly. But if you’re arguing against it, it would really help the moral vector of your argument if you had a good reason beyond it aiding a political opponent.

    [* – For more on these challenges, see “Automating Inequality” by Virginia Eubanks]

    10
  6. Slugger says:

    My takeaway conclusion from the Mankiw quotes and the points raised in response is that conservatism and capitalism are the way to go when the sun is shining and the seas are smooth, but when trouble looms it is time to get real. Maybe we should stop kidding ourselves. We have spent money bailing out soybean farmers and are working to bail out the domestic petroleum producers. I am not saying that these are wrong steps, but please stop thinking that there are not lots of problems even when there are no pandemic viruses. People with medical bills, people with education bills, the homeless, and others were facing their own crisis before the virus hit, and we ignored them because the Dow-Jones was up. Let’s do some serious thinking about the real world by people willing to take responsibility.

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  7. James Joyner says:

    @mattbernius: There’s also the issue of stigma. If school breakfast and lunch is free for anyone who wants it, there’s no shame in taking it.

    Fairfax County schools do free weekday lunches all summer for anyone under 18. And I doubt they ID to screen out hungry 19-year-olds. They’re doing free weekday breakfast and lunches under the same conditions during the COVID-19 shutdown. And family members can eat very cheaply if they want.

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  8. gVOR08 says:

    @mattbernius:
    – I have seen consensus among economists that a payroll tax cut is a bad idea. This is the first time I’ve seen anyone discuss just mailing out checks. I would welcome links to discussion of mailing out checks.
    – Mankiw says a recession is likely, even the best we can do. Then he proposes anti-recession stimulus. Now maybe he’s wanting to say we need to do this to avoid financial collapse and depression, but he did not say so.
    – Every Republican prez since WWII has had a recession, some two or three. I’ve argued in these threads before coronavirus that if we’re going to have a recession it’s better economically and politically to have a mild recession now rather than expend all the Feds ammunition merely delaying it.
    – Saying let’s not target aggregate demand, let’s send everybody money is contradictory.
    – Saying let’s target those who need it, let’s send everyone money is contradictory.
    – Therefore, even if you accept Mankiw’s proposal, he’s lying to support it.
    – Arguing that we can’t perfectly target need therefore we shouldn’t even try is the bog standard conservative response to everything. Since they say it whatever the circumstances, it should be ignored. Also, don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
    – Mankiw is correct to say the deficit is not a concern at the current level and in these circumstances. This does not mean we should allow GOPs to continue to blow it up until it is a concern.
    – Back in the first W Bush recession, which is to say the second Bush recession, i.e. not Bush Recession III, the big one, the government sent out stimulus checks to everybody. In 2009, during the big one, the government sent out some checks selectively, but mostly did a quiet payroll tax cut. Why the difference? Many reasons, but prominently W was saying ‘here’s your free money from Republicans’, while Obama knew many people would put a windfall in savings and forget it, but people living paycheck to paycheck would simply find a few bucks at the end of the month and spend it. Obama let pass a political opportunity in favor of stimulus.
    – Do you honestly believe Mankiw wants to mail out checks purely for economic reasons rather than political.
    – My bluetooth keyboard went south and the touchpad keyboard went erratic after some recent iOS update. I’m tired of fighting it. Everyone stay healthy, wash your hands, and vote Blue.

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  9. @gVOR08:

    Saying let’s not target aggregate demand, let’s send everybody money is contradictory.

    Maybe because this is the first you are hearing of this suggestion you are missing the basic idea. There are a lot of people out there who aren’t going to get paid or are taking a huge pay cut because of things like canceling SXSW (how many tips were lost? how many restaurants, bars and food trucks were looking to make a huge percentage of their annual income that they will now lose?).

    The hourly workers, the tip-makers, the temp employees now out of work need to pay rent and bills. They need short-term cash. $2k would go a long way to stopping defaulted payments and all the down-stream problems.

    Since the mechanism for determining who has real needs is cumbersome, inefficient, and expensive, it makes sense just to send money to everyone.

    It isn’t about infusing money into the economy. It is about getting money in the hands of people who are being directly impacted by this pandemic so that they can remain solvent (and not created downstream negative economic impacts (since a bunch of people not paying their bills has further consequences).

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  10. Kari Q says:

    @gVOR08:

    I don’t have links, but I have seen several economists say the government should send everyone a check, regardless of need. It’s not just Mankiw.

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  11. @gVOR08: BTW, could such a policy help Trump? Very possibly. My anti-Trump bona fides are well known, but doing the right thing and engaging in needed help to the population is more important than making a political calculation about whether Trump gets an approval boost because his administration did the right thing for a change.

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  12. Kari Q says:

    Here’s an article from a few days ago.

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  13. gVOR08 says:

    @Kari Q: I appreciate the link. But in the end, they argue, emphasis mine,

    Other countries affected by the coronavirus are directing money to their citizens to lighten the economic blow. China is speeding up payments of unemployment benefits. France, Japan and Korea are boosting subsidies for workers to stay home to care for children, and France is giving money to people forced to self-quarantine. Hong Kong, among other measures, is offering the equivalent of $1,280 to permanent residents who’ve been affected by the outbreak.

    So a check from the federal government wouldn’t be unprecedented. But for a presidential administration that has so far considered only top-down approaches to easing the economic pain, it would be unusual.

    So they’re offering other countries’ TARGETED benefits as precedent for un-targeted benefits. Sounds like something Mankiw would say.

    Please understand, I’m not saying we shouldn’t help people. I’m saying two things. One, mailing a check to everyone, while it is at least not regressive. is about the most horribly ineffective possible way to do it. We can do better. Two, Mankiw is making a partisan, not an economic, argument and proposal. Pointing out that a lot of people are going to be hurt is not a rebuttal to either.

    That said, I welcome further links to discussion of this.

    1
  14. @gVOR08: I feel like you are missing a simple point: what is the mechanism for getting the benefits to the waiter who is down on his tips massively, but is still employed? What’s the target for the part-time worker who sells peanuts at the MLB game?

    Do we want people waiting in lines to talk to bureaucrats to fill out forms (and all touch the same pens) and all of that under these circumstances?

    Mailing checks is fast and universal and does not require figuring out need.

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  15. mattbernius says:

    @James Joyner:

    There’s also the issue of stigma. If school breakfast and lunch is free for anyone who wants it, there’s no shame in taking it.

    That too. I had considered mentioning that but it felt a bit off topic for the core point. Either way school lunch for all is the correct policy.

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Mailing checks is fast and universal and does not require figuring out need.

    Again this. Not to mention that figuring out need is incredibly difficult because cost of living changes so much from locale to locale. And so trying to come up with a formula will invariably create fringe cases where needy people right on the edges are missed.

    Not to mention, I’d rather see that effort going into understanding how to reach vulnerable individuals at the fringes who, for example, don’t have fixed mailing addresses (or homes).

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  16. senyordave says:

    Since the Republican-led senate is beyond useless (McConnell is truly an evil MF, but that’s another story), the Democrats in the House will have to lead. They should work on a bill with the WH to get emergency money to Americans quickly. No means testing, etc., too much time and bureaucracy involved. Do the right thing. If they can’t use Trump’s “I take no responsibility at all” to help them win the election then we’re screwed anyway.
    They can have ads showing Trump being dismissive of the whole issue, lying about it being contained, his ridiculous claim that doctors are amazed at his knowledge on the subject. And hammer him on the testing delays and eliminating the WH office on pandemic preparedness.
    Trump has blood on his hands since it appears he delayed testing in order to keep the number of confirmed cases down. Tipped his hand when ordered the cruise ship to be kept in port so the infected passengers wouldn’t count.
    Make Trump own the mess is he largely responsible. How about an ad contrasting him and Harry Truman. Harry said the buck stops with him, Trump says the buck stops anywhere but with him.

    6
  17. mattbernius says:
  18. mattbernius says:

    @gVOR08:

    One, mailing a check to everyone, while it is at least not regressive. is about the most horribly ineffective possible way to do it.

    Can unpack why you think that?

    And can you share an example of what a more effective way to do it would be?

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  19. DrDaveT says:

    @gVOR08:

    One, mailing a check to everyone, while it is at least not regressive, is about the most horribly ineffective possible way to do it.

    This is the part I think you’re getting wrong. How much of that $1000 are you willing to spend on making sure that nobody who didn’t need $1000 gets it? For the same federal outlay, would you rather give $1000 to everyone, or $700 to everyone who really needs it? (Yes, the overhead is at least that high if you want to do means-testing and/or urgent need.)

    The “good” news is that the US income and wealth distribution is sufficiently skewed that only a small fraction of the population doesn’t qualify as “urgent need” here. In that case, it makes sense to do the thing that is both fastest and most effective at the cutting edge, and hope that the payments to the non-needy turn into stimulus.

    ETA: European nations can do targeted benefits because they already have the mechanisms in place, thanks to their existing safety net programs. We lack that infrastructure.

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  20. DrDaveT says:

    @senyordave:

    Harry said the buck stops with him, Trump says the buck stops anywhere but with him.

    “There is no buck, that’s a Democratic hoax. Fake news.”

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  21. @DrDaveT:

    How much of that $1000 are you willing to spend on making sure that nobody who didn’t need $1000 gets it? For the same federal outlay, would you rather give $1000 to everyone, or $700 to everyone who really needs it? (Yes, the overhead is at least that high if you want to do means-testing and/or urgent need.)

    Exactly.

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  22. @DrDaveT:

    “There is no buck, that’s a Democratic hoax. Fake news.”

    So. Much. Winning.

    6
  23. inhumans99 says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I am with you Steven, if President Trump wanted to spend every waking moment of his day bragging about how only he could help Americans in this time of crisis by making sure we had the money to help get us over this temporary hump I could care less, let him do this all day long for 50 days straight if it makes him happy. Better that he spends all his time bragging about sending us checks than freaking more people out every time he opens his mouth to talk about Covid-19. Heck, Guarneri can also spend all his time lecturing us about how wrong we were about the great President Trump, I do not care…G, you can brag to your hearts content but only after I and many others are able to snap selfies of us holding a check for at least $1,000.

    I swear I was thinking about this yesterday and saying to myself instead of a payroll taxcut and twisting ourselves into knots over who “deserves” to get some aid from the Government why doesn’t President Trump pull a George Bush and send everyone a $500 check. It would go a long ways towards getting him re-elected and it would actually help everyone in America.

    One final thing, if this happens (and it should) everyone, and I do mean everyone should get a check because as far as I am concerned the Haves should also get the check not just the Have-Nots. If Bezos, or Adelson, or that Uline shipping supplies guy (who is a big Trump supporter from what I have read) wants to take their check and hand it over to an organization that can get some cash into the hands of the homeless so they get some temporary relief from total misery that is cool, but make sure they can also have that opportunity to snap a selfie holding the check payable to their name in their hands.

    Also, sorry for the long post!

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  24. Gustopher says:

    Mail everyone a check, tweak the tax laws to collect the money from anyone who makes more than $X in 2020 when they do their taxes.

    Boom, the money goes to who needs it, and the undeserving wealthy only get a free loan.

    Total cost of means testing this way… not zero, but not significant.

    ETA: I’d rather just send everyone a check and be done with it, but if you must have means testing… this is efficient.

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  25. Michael Reynolds says:

    I have a crazy suggestion. How about if people who don’t need a government check donate it to local relief efforts?

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  26. Mu Yixiao says:

    @DrDaveT:

    This is the part I think you’re getting wrong. How much of that $1000 are you willing to spend on making sure that nobody who didn’t need $1000 gets it? For the same federal outlay, would you rather give $1000 to everyone, or $700 to everyone who really needs it? (Yes, the overhead is at least that high if you want to do means-testing and/or urgent need.)

    There’s a solution to this–one that actually plays to the strengths of conservatives. Trusted local institutions (such as banks) step up and say:

    Everyone is going to get a check. Some of you don’t need it. Others need it, and more. Consider donating your check to [trusted local food-bank/charity]. 100% of the money donated will go to [local charity]. And [local rich people/businesses] have committed to matching 10% of every donated check.

    It’s feel-good for democrats who want the government to offer the aid, and it’s feel-good for republicans who think charity should be private*. And it gets the money where it needs to be. Local charities know who needs what. They don’t need complicated paperwork and bureaucracy to figure it out. In smaller towns (which, I’m guessing may get hit the hardest and have the least resources to weather the situation), it boils down to knowing the people on a personal level and how hard they’ll be hit.**

    If it happens to be good PR for banks and rich people/businesses, I’ve got no problem with that.

    * Numbers vary depending on how the question is asked, but conservatives tend to give to charity at about twice the rate as liberals.

    ** I’ve done a little “PR” for a few local charities. In a town our size, they know who’s in need, and they know how to get those people what they need–without having to deal with pride.

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  27. @Michael Reynolds: I was thinking the same thing.

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  28. JohnMcC says:

    Remember when just sending checks to wide swaths of the great unwashed was going to be bad for their morals? Back then we called it ‘helicopter money’ and laughed at the idea!

    Good times.

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  29. Kari Q says:

    @gVOR08:

    There are many more articles out there. I just linked that one because it didn’t have a paywall and had quotes from economists who were not Republicans. It’s a widespread discussion, and certainly the easiest, fastest way of getting relief to those who need it.

    That’s not to say there’s no merit in other approaches, but they are probably best used in conjunction with just giving everyone money, rather than instead of.

  30. mattbernius says:

    @Steven L. Taylor & @Michael Reynolds:

    @Michael Reynolds: I was thinking the same thing.

    Embarrassingly, I had not thought of that. Thank you for the idea!

    3
  31. Joe says:

    How about if people who don’t need a government check donate it to local relief efforts?

    My own thought, Michael Reynolds, was to donate it to local arts organizations, but, yeah, that.

    4
  32. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Gustopher:

    tweak the tax laws to collect the money from anyone who makes more than $X in 2020 when they do their taxes.

    It wasn’t all that long ago when no tweaking was required.

    1
  33. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @mattbernius:

    Either way school lunch for all is the correct policy.

    While I was in Korea, there was a significant debate in the National Assembly about a proposal in Seoul for free school lunches for middle and high school students. In the countryside, the national government already subsidized school lunch for elementary students (the lunches are very good BTW), but free lunches for middle and high school students was a sea change. The free lunch people finally prevailed when they were able to show that the system for qualifying needy students for free lunches would be so expensive to administer that it was simply cheaper to give everybody lunch in the first place.

    Now, I live in a place where the argument is that even though it might be more expensive, the principle is what matters, so we should spend the extra to make sure nobody gets anything they don’t deserve.

    @Joe: And yeah, that. (But if you want to save the arts in your community, that’s okay, too. 😉 )

    3
  34. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @inhumans99:

    why doesn’t President Trump pull a George Bush and send everyone a $500 check. It would go a long ways towards getting him re-elected …

    Fortunately, Trump and his fellows are too stupid to realize that.

    …and it would actually help everyone in America.

    Unfortunately, Trump and his fellows don’t give a rat’s ass about anyone other than themselves.

    1
  35. gVOR08 says:

    How many people do you think have suffered serious financial harm from corona virus? (Buying a hundred dollars worth of TP doesn’t count.)

    I asked for links, @mattbernius: was kind enough to provide three. I’m afraid the first was paywalled, I don’t give money to Rupert Murdoch’s WSJ. So I fear if there’s something compelling there, I’ll have to ask for a quote.The other two mention an economist suggesting a mailed check, but kind of in passing, ‘a guy suggested this’, with no discussion. And in the context of econ stimulus more than coronavirus relief.

    @DrDaveT: gets to the heart of the matter, saying,

    This is the part I think you’re getting wrong. How much of that $1000 are you willing to spend on making sure that nobody who didn’t need $1000 gets it? For the same federal outlay, would you rather give $1000 to everyone, or $700 to everyone who really needs it? (Yes, the overhead is at least that high if you want to do means-testing and/or urgent need.)

    I’m generally opposed to means testing. By doing so for, say, SS we’d put a stigma on recipients and give GOPs a makers/takers argument against it. All to save maybe a few % of benefits. We’re not talking $700 v $1000. We’re not talking about spending 30% of the program to uncover a few undeserving. We’re talking about giving the relatively small number of people who need it $5,000 or $10,000 instead of shotgunning $1,000 out to everybody. An amount that’s insulting to the people who need help. You think a waitress depending on tips is only going to lose 1K$ if she’s off for two months?

    @inhumans99: asks why Trump is too dumb to figure out he could both help people and get reelected by mailing out checks. I don’t know why he’s too dumb, something to do with genetics and privilege maybe. But Mankiw figured out it would help trump get reelected.

    Personally, I’d like to see a more targeted approach, aimed at the relatively small number of people who really need it. Maybe something like:
    • Extended paid sick leave
    • Extended paid family leave
    • Free testing for all
    • Expanded food assistance programs
    • Strengthened unemployment insurance
    Would this be perfect? No. But it would be better than shotgunning money indiscriminately. Is it enough? No, but it’s a better start than shotgunning money. Is it possible? Acting president Pelosi got it through the House this morning.

    1
  36. DrDaveT says:

    @gVOR08:

    We’re not talking about spending 30% of the program to uncover a few undeserving. We’re talking about giving the relatively small number of people who need it $5,000 or $10,000 instead of shotgunning $1,000 out to everybody.

    There are two key assumptions you’re making there. One is that only 10%-20% of the working population will need significant help; the second is that figuring out who that 10%-20% are is essentially free and instantaneous. I don’t think either of those things are true, but I’m always open to actual data.

    Even if Pelosi’s plan (which I support) gets passed, how long do you think it will be before the first recipients have cash in hand from it? Weeks? Months? Shotgun checks could be in the mail on Monday. I think a waitress depending on tips is better off with $1000 this week than with $5000 in September.

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  37. Andy says:

    @gVOR08:

    We’re talking about giving the relatively small number of people who need it $5,000 or $10,000 instead of shotgunning $1,000 out to everybody. An amount that’s insulting to the people who need help. You think a waitress depending on tips is only going to lose 1K$ if she’s off for two months?

    Sure in an ideal world that would be great. But people need money in the next few weeks and there is simply no way to do that calculus in a time-frame that matters in a way that stakeholders will all think is fair.

    The federal government has no ability to examine the personal circumstances of 320 million people and determine who should get what, even assuming there was a set of criteria to determine that – which there isn’t.

    And even creating the criteria, either directly in the legislation or in the Executive, will take a lot of time. If you do it in the legislation, then the various interests will have to create something that the Pelosi House, the McConnel Senate, and President Trump will agree is “fair.” If you let the Executive make the rules, then you’re handing the process to the Trump administration to determine was is fair.

    And bureaucracies being what they are, neither option will be quick. And that is all before the actual implementation and distribution of the funds.

    TLDR: People will need the money before the end of this month or early next month. It’s simply impossible to do what you want in that timeframe.

    Do you honestly believe Mankiw wants to mail out checks purely for economic reasons rather than political.

    You’ve mentioned your perception of Mankiw’s intentions several times. I kind of doubt you have a unique insight into his motivations. But regardless, Mankiw’s motivations are not relevant.

    Specific proposals should stand or fall on their own merits, not on subjective opinions about the perceived motivations of those making the proposal.

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  38. Jax says:

    @Andy: “The federal government has no ability to examine the personal circumstances of 320 million people and determine who should get what, even assuming there was a set of criteria to determine that – which there isn’t.”

    Taxes are due in one month. Start there, I’d guess. That’s about when people are gonna start worrying about rent/food/utilities, and what the fuck are they gonna do with their kids?! Build out on health insurance, etc, cuz we’re all gonna need it even if Trump and the 2o fucking bazillionaires don’t.

  39. Gustopher says:

    @Andy:

    Sure in an ideal world that would be great. But people need money in the next few weeks and there is simply no way to do that calculus in a time-frame that matters in a way that stakeholders will all think is fair.

    Agreed.

    The fair calculus is income this year, which we don’t know yet. We can either live with a bunch of people who don’t need more money getting it, or have a lot of people who need money not get it until it’s too late.

    Restaurants in Seattle are already closing. Events are being cancelled. The local alt-weekly laid off people since so much of their ad revenue comes from event listings, and there aren’t that many events to list. People are losing their jobs now. People need help fast.

    Extend and increase unemployment benefits — we already have a program for that, just feed it more money.

    Blanket America with checks. (I think we could claw it back via taxes for those who don’t need it — if we have $5k checks, and I make $100k, I can expect my taxes to be $5k higher at the end of the year…)

    I don’t know what else can be done fast.

    1
  40. James Joyner says:

    @gVOR08:

    – Do you honestly believe Mankiw wants to mail out checks purely for economic reasons rather than political.

    Mankiw campaigned against Trump in 2016 and has since publicly left the GOP, registering as an Independent.

    2
  41. mattbernius says:

    @Andy:

    The federal government has no ability to examine the personal circumstances of 320 million people and determine who should get what, even assuming there was a set of criteria to determine that – which there isn’t.

    […]

    TLDR: People will need the money before the end of this month or early next month. It’s simply impossible to do what you want in that timeframe.

    THIS everyone. This.

    I’ve worked in the civic tech space for approximately 2 years. As I mentioned on Friday, this week I join Code For America as part of their “Clear My Record” team (https://www.clearmyrecord.org/). CFA works with county and state governments to design programs and services to help get resources to the most vulnerable within a population. It takes months — sometimes years — to stand up programs and services. And typically they are first done at the city/county level, then the state, then multi-state. Trying to quickly roll something out at the federal level is damn near impossible.

    The reasons for this are multiple. One key aspects is that our civic data is incredibly fragmented (stored across local, state, and federal databases that are often in-commensurable). That’s before we get to all the challenges of dealing with localities as well. And the need to actually carefully design programs to ensure that vulnerable people are not accidentally left out.

    Plus then we get to the additional cost of designing those programs which ultimately makes the solutions more expensive.

    Also, I should note that programs like unemployment and SNAP are a mix of federal and state agencies working together. Which means that design and service work needs to happen across not just the Fed but also 50 states (plus territories) with 50 different systems. It’s a coordination nightmare.

    Case and point, the Alphabet Inc testing website the White House has been talking about is going to take a few weeks to put together and will be only available in a single City at first for testing to understand how it works.

    (To that point, having also worked in product and service design within major companies, it takes them a long time to deliver products and services as well).

    The reality is that, while it might make some feel uncomfortable, this is the fastest and most efficient option that we have.

    I’d also suggest that people really examine *why* this makes them feel uncomfortable.

    The other two mention an economist suggesting a mailed check, but kind of in passing, ‘a guy suggested this’, with no discussion. And in the context of econ stimulus more than coronavirus relief.

    On thing I’ll say here, all three cited expert economists recommending this approach. If this were, say climate change related, would you be more willing to listen to experts talking about intervention steps to quickly address climate change? Again, I really hate to say it, but based on a number of your comments, it really seems like you issue with this intervention is that you think it would politically benefit President Trump (and you seem to ignore all the of us noted Trump critics who keep saying that despite a possibility of that, it remains the best and most efficient option).

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  42. SC_Birdflyte says:

    Thankfully, we don’t need any financial help, but sending a check to every household is probably better from the standpoint of short-term logistics. If we got a check, it would go directly to a local food bank.