Brad DeLong captures the general line of thinking in an article for The Week, entitled Keynes & Co. have lost the stimulus argument. In it he explains why he’s pessimistic about our current economic situation, things the government can do to restore economic growth, and why the government probably isn’t going to do any of those things. Here’s his summary of the current situation:
The good news is we have avoided another Great Depression. But it seems ill-advised for Barack Obama to stand up on a Friday morning in early July and say that the economy is “headed in the right direction” (even if, as he said, “we are not headed there fast enough”) and to highlight “the sixth straight month of job growth in the private sector.” The employment-to-population ratio has been flat since November. Over the past six months–since the downturn ended–the U.S. economy has not been recovering from its near-depression, and not been putting a greater and greater portion of its potential labor force to work. Rather, it has been bumping along the bottom. There is a big difference between the economy getting “better” and the economy “no longer getting worse rapidly.”
Ultimately, I come down on Krugman/DeLong side in this debate. There are specific things the government needs to do to get the deficit under control (or, alternatively, it could just do nothing), but those are structural changes to the federal budget. In the meantime, we need economic growth.