Mark Thoma gets a clue
Bravo to Mark Thoma for cottoning on to something that's been blindingly obvious to the rest of us for years now:
Initially I was critical of how the tax cuts were targeted since so much ended up going to saving rather than consumption. This is the part I am rethinking.I shouldn't be too hard on him though, he's an academic economist and therefore handicapped in understanding household behavior, finance, and the economy. Still, this is excellent progress!
There are different types of recessions, and this one can be termed “a balance sheet” recession. It had a big impact not just on bank balance sheets, but on household (and, for that matter firm) balance sheets as well. Households were particularly hard hit due to declines in stock prices and declines in the value of housing. These losses were large, they upset plans for things such as retirement, and households needed to refill the holes in their balance sheets that had been created (this includes paying off debt).
How do they refill their balance sheets? By saving more and consuming less (paying off debt is a form of saving). Thus, as the recession took hold, we saw a large increase in the saving rate and a corresponding fall in consumption. The tax cuts were an attempt to reverse the decline in consumption, but instead they mostly raised the amount that went into saving.
But that has a benefit. Households are not going to start consuming normally again until their balance sheets are repaired. The faster the holes in their balance sheets are refilled, and tax cuts can help with this, the faster the households can return to their normal rates of consumption — a prerequisite for the economy to return to normal.