In the real world that rarely intrudes upon conservative economists and voters, both parties (and all Presidents) are Keynesians. Whenever the economy falters and private-sector spending declines, they use the tax-and-spending system to inject more demand into the economy. In 1981, Ronald Reagan did precisely this, slashing taxes and increasing defense spending. Between 2001 and 2003, George W. Bush followed the same script, introducing three sets of tax cuts and starting two wars. In February, 2009, Barack Obama introduced his stimulus. The real policy debate isn’t about Keynesianism versus the free market, it is about magnitudes and techniques: How much stimulus is necessary? And how should it be divided between government spending and tax cuts?
On both questions, Obama took the middle ground. His $800 billion stimulus program was smaller than many Keynesians, such as Christine Romer and Paul Krugman, wanted. (Romer reportedly pushed first for a $1.8 trillion package, then for $1.2 trillion.) Concentrated over a three-year period, it amounted to 1.1 per cent of G.D.P. in 2009, 2.4 per cent of G.D.P. in 2010, and 1.2 per cent of G.D.P. in 2011. So far, some $750 billion in stimulus money has been paid out: about $300 billion went to tax breaks for individuals and firms; roughly $235 billion was dispersed in the form of government contracts, grants, and loans; and another $225 billion was spent on entitlements—unemployment benefits, Medicaid, food stamps, and so on.