If Republicans dislike monetary stimulus, they loathe its fiscal cousin even more, routinely labeling Obama’s stimulus as ineffective, or worse, counterproductive. They want balanced budgets, the sooner the better. Bachmann, for instance, has advocated an immediate 40 percent cut to federal spending by barring any increase in the debt ceiling. This, too, is at odds with the party’s earlier views. The administration of George W. Bush sold its 2001 and 2003 tax cuts as Keynesian-style economic stimulus. Lawrence Lindsey, a top Bush adviser, even likened opponents of the tax cuts to President Herbert Hoover, whose obsession with balancing the budget in 1932 worsened the Great Depression.
Certainly, some of this rhetoric is just political opportunism. The Fed and the stimulus package are handy proxies for Republicans’ real target, which is Obama in the 2012 election. But something more fundamental is going on: The economic ideology of the Republican Party has changed in recent years in an important and little-appreciated direction. Liberals and conservatives in the United States have long differed on how much the government should meddle in individual markets, whether for energy or health care. But they have largely agreed that the government should have at least some role in smoothing out the ups and downs of the business cycle — what economists call “macroeconomic stabilization,” that is, containing inflation in good times and boosting employment in bad.
But this is the consensus that many Republicans in effect now reject. In their view, the government has no more role meddling in the business cycle than in any other market. “Many of our problems can be traced to a misguided belief by politicians that the American economy is something that can be controlled or micromanaged or influenced positively by government intervention and borrowing,” House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a speech in May. He went on to explain that “for job creators, the ‘promise’ of a large new initiative coming out of Washington is more like a threat. It freezes them. … The rash of ‘stimulus’ legislation passed by Congress in recent years has been one of those obstacles.”
This is not to be confused with supply-side economics, the dubious Reagan-era doctrine that tax cuts would generate enough economic growth and revenue to reduce the deficit. Republicans still believe in lower taxes but generally don’t claim they pay for themselves. The new GOP views actually have a much longer pedigree: They are rooted in an intellectual contest that raged during the 1930s and 1940s, and had long been settled by the opposing side.
Before then, orthodox economics held that the economy was self-correcting. Just as the price of wheat or the wages of carpenters would always adjust to eliminate surpluses or shortages of either, so would wages throughout the economy adjust to eliminate temporary bouts of high unemployment.