When Covid struck, it was governments that decided people could not go to work and governments that took people’s money away. It is now down to governments to decide whether or not to return that money and when to open up the economy. In the US, Democrats want to give generously. While $1.9tn dollars is a lot of money – about the size of Canada’s GDP – it probably is not enough.
As Randall Wray of the Levy Institute has pointed out, the US government is engaged in relief, not stimulus, spending. It is offering much-needed assistance to the devastated balance sheets of households, school districts and local governments. Rescuing public services, making sure people don’t starve and building Covid-testing systems is not an economic stimulus but a necessary antidepressant. Reducing the size of the relief package would prolong the recession, which, given the virus’s capacity to surprise, may last longer than the experts predict. President Joe Biden was right to rebuff criticism that Democrats risked overheating the economy, saying the problem was spending too little, not too much. There is slack in the US economy: 400,000 Americans left the labour market in January.