The Gingrich nonsense

Newt Gingrich has been using the fast exchanges of the Republican presidential debates to ignore facts, misdiagnose economic problems and then present wrongheaded solutions. The key fact that he is ignoring is the Great Recession—the greatest economic downturn the country has seen since the depression of the 1930s. It is amazing that anyone could miss this fact, but, apparently, Gingrich has.

Once we acknowledge the existence of the Great Recession, Gingrich’s ideas stop making sense. His statement that “more people have been put on food stamps by Barack Obama than any president in American history” is ludicrous. The recession began in Dec. 2007; President Obama took office in Jan. 2009, more than a year later. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) exists to reduce hunger in America. During this period of extreme economic hardship when the rate of hunger in America is high, our leaders should want the needy to turn to SNAP. Would a President Gingrich eliminate SNAP or prevent the number of SNAP recipients from rising during a recession?

Gingrich’s latest idea is to fire janitors in schools and “hire 30-some kids to work in the school for the price of one janitor, and those 30 kids would be a lot less likely to drop out.” It is true that teen (i.e., 16-to-19 years old) employment is correlated with positive student outcomes including high school graduation. But this is a horrible idea.

Think of a family where one parent is a janitor and one child is in high school. Gingrich is proposing to layoff the parent and replace the parent’s income with one-thirtieth the salary brought in by the child. Who knows how many hundreds of thousands of families would be plunged into poverty if this idea is ever implemented. We know that poorer children do worse in school, so any possible benefit from the increase in teen employment would likely be undone by the increase in poverty. One important reason that the teen unemployment rate is so high today is because of the Great Recession, the recession that began in the final year of the George W. Bush administration.

From Flickr Creative Commons by Gage Skidmore

It is great that Gingrich wants “to find ways to help poor people learn how to get a job, learn how to get a better job, and learn someday to own the job.” All Americans support these goals. But the real issue is this: What policies should we pursue right now to speed a full recovery from the Great Recession?

Gingrich wants to slash taxes. But we know that this is not the path to prosperity that Gingrich thinks it is. Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics, tells us that tax cuts are among the weakest things we could do to stimulate the economy and that increased SNAP spending is among the best. The reason is simple. People on SNAP are experiencing economic hardship. They spend their benefits, circulating those dollars in the economy. Much of the added income produced by tax cuts to people who are well-off is saved and not spent.

We also know to be skeptical of the tax-cut strategy because we tried it during the George W. Bush administration and it failed. President Bush cut taxes and “the U.S. economy experienced the worst economic expansion of the post-war era.”

Further, after examining the Gingrich Jobs plan, Howard Gleckman of the Tax Policy Center reports that “Newt Gingrich is proposing a massive tax cut aimed at the highest earning American households. Gingrich’s plan would add about $1 trillion to the federal deficit in a single year.” It is hard to imagine worse economic policy than Gingrich’s economic ideas.

Once we begin the discussion with acknowledgement that the Great Recession, which began more than a year before President Obama took office, is the root cause of the massive loss of jobs we’ve seen since 2007, we can see that Gingrich’s economic proposals are disastrous for the U.S. economy. Apparently, he wants hungry Americans to stay hungry. He wants to lay off workers and replace them with children making a tiny fraction of the prior wage. During this period of high unemployment, this policy guarantees an increase in poverty. And, while he has increased hardship and misery for the poorest Americans, he wants to make sure that the richest Americans get even richer with massive tax cuts. Gingrich’s vision for America is an American nightmare.