Stanford Professor and former Bush administration economist John Taylor is taking strong exception to the secular stagnation argument being put forward by Larry Summers, Paul Krugman, and right-thinking economists everywhere. His alternative explanation for an unusually weak recovery and a decade of poor growth is excessively expansionary monetary policy and policy uncertainty due to items like the Affordable Care Act and Dodd-Frank. Both of these lines of argument are a bit hard to follow.
On the excessively expansionary monetary policy point, the usual evidence is accelerating inflation. We see the opposite over the last decade, low and falling inflation. The expansionary monetary policy has been a direct response to the weak economy over this period. Taylor seems to miss this, asserting in his paper:
"The federal funds rate was 1.0 percent in 2003 when the inflation rate was about 2.0 percent and the economy was operating pretty close to normal."
Actually the economy was far from being close to normal. It was still shedding jobs until September of 2003, almost two years after the official recession was over. The employment to population ratio at the end of 2003 was still almost 2.5 percentage points below its pre-recession level, a larger falloff than at any point in the 1990-91 downturn. It seems more than a bit of a stretch to say the economy was operating close to normal. (My explanation is that we were having trouble recovering from the collapse of the stock bubble.)
Taylor then follows Peter Wallison in blaming Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the Community Re-investment Act for the housing bubble even though the worst loans were securitized by private investment banks like Goldman Sachs and Bear Stearns. The GSEs lost massive market share in the bubble years to the subprime issuers.
Then we get that Affordable Care Act and Dodd-Frank are preventing firms from investing and hiring. There is no real explanation of how this is supposed to be occurring. First off, non-residential investment is almost back to its pre-recession share of GDP, so it seems like Taylor is trying to explain a gap that does not exist. The same applies to hiring. If there were a fear of hiring then we should be seeing the length of the average workweek rising far above historic levels, as employers substitute more hours for more workers. We don't.
If the Affordable Care Act is actually discouraging hiring can we get some hint as to where to look for evidence. Presumably it would be at mid-size firms that didn't previously provide insurance but might now be forced to by employer sanctions under the ACA. Is there any evidence this is happening? Taylor certainly doesn't present any.
The same is true with Dodd-Frank. Do we see less hiring and growth in the financial sector than we would have in the absence of the new legislation? If so, Taylor does not make the case. Is it harder for non-financial firms to borrow as a result of Dodd-Frank? This is certainly not in any obvious way true.
In short, Taylor's argument is primarily one of yelling "uncertainty, ACA, Dodd-Frank bad." It may sell in some circles, but it is not a serious economic argument.
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