Sunday, November 3, 2013

Quick note on Mario Rizzo and food stamps

Mario Rizzo argues here that foodstamps are becoming a new entitlement, highlighting the fact that their use has not declined with unemployment, suggesting that they are not offering a counter-cyclical stabilizer the way Keynesians suggest.

This is a perfect example of where it's important to use employment to population ratios rather than unemployment rates. If you use the latter you probably think we've been going through a slow but steady recovery. If you use the former you think we've been virtually at a standstill for the last couple years.

And note that's the behavior of food stamp participation - it's growing, but the growth has leveled off as declines in employment have leveled off. Think about what you're measuring. The unemployment rate is an important indicator but if you're concerned with economic hardship more generally - or with the volume of employment (the Keynesian concern) there are probably better statistics particularly in a recovery like this one.

As Rizzo notes, there are changes associated with benefit take-up. That might imply a leveling up of food stamps (and if we like the eligibility rules now and after this recession is over, what's the real problem with robust take-up?). But as far as the counter-cyclical question he raises, I don't see any reason to believe it's not just as counter-cyclical as ever. That's because he and I seem to have different perspectives on where in the cycle we are exactly.

I find his discussion at the end about the self-generating recovery nature of Keynesian policies very odd. But then again, he thinks we've had a lot of stimulus and I don't see much evidence for that after 2009/early 2010. That's on top of the fact that liquidity traps and financial crises are going to be especially hard to climb out of even in the best policy environments.

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