Bill Gross is the manager director of PIMCO, the world's largest bond fund, and thus one of the most important bond traders in the world. And his concerns about the deficit have been cited as a compelling case for austerity. Now? Via Ezra Klein, not so much:
But in an unusual mid-month note to his investors, Gross hammered the “anti-Keynesians” in both parties who believe “that fiscal conservatism equates to job growth.” The truth, he says, is just the opposite. “Fiscal balance alone will not likely produce 20 million jobs over the next decade. The move towards it, in fact, if implemented too quickly, could stultify economic growth.”
Gross goes on to spend some time mocking the “ivory tower theorem” that deficit reduction will convince consumers to spend more now because they’ll worry less about taxes and service cuts later. “I know of no family,” he writes, “who, after watching the Republican candidates’ debate in New Hampshire, went out the next day and bought themselves a flat screen under the assumption that their Medicare entitlements would be cut in future years and the U.S. budget balanced.” That theory belongs “in the trash bin of theses and research aimed more towards academics than a practical remedy to America’s job crisis.”
So what should we do? “Government must temporarily assume a bigger, not a smaller, role in this economy, if only because other countries are dominating job creation with kick-start policies that eventually dominate global markets.” But what about the deficit? “Deficits are important, but their immediate reduction can wait for a stronger economy and lower unemployment. Jobs are today’s and tomorrow’s immediate problem.”
Gross goes on to offer some ideas for how the government can goose job growth, both in the short term and the long term. Some of them I find convincing, some of them I don’t. But his overall point is well-taken, and more subtle than some commentators are giving it credit for: Politicians have increasingly been pretending that deficit reduction slices, dices and blends. Don’t believe them. Cutting deficits tends to destroy jobs. And though the deficit matters in the long run, we need to survive the short run first.
Gross’s credentials as a deficit hawk are unimpeachable, but he’s arguing here that, to be a deficit hawk over the long term, you need to be jobs-focused now, as no economy with 9 percent unemployment is going to achieve the growth necessary to get its deficit under control. And he’s right. The question is whether his call for the government to refocus on jobs and brush aside fantasies that deficit reduction is also job creation will get as much attention as his concerns about debt and deficits.