Practical Problems with Discretionary Fiscal Policy

Structural Economic Change Takes Time

When an economy recovers from a recession, it does not usually revert to its exact earlier shape. Instead, the economy's internal structure evolves and changes and this process can take time. For example, much of the economic growth of the mid-2000s was in the construction sector (especially of housing) and finance. However, when housing prices started falling in 2007 and the resulting financial crunch led into recession (as we discussed in Monetary Policy and Bank Regulation), both sectors contracted. The manufacturing sector of the U.S. economy has been losing jobs in recent years as well, under pressure from technological change and foreign competition. Many of the people who lost work from these sectors in the 2008-2009 Great Recession will never return to the same jobs in the same sectors of the economy. Instead, the economy will need to grow in new and different directions, as the following Clear It Up feature shows. Fiscal policy can increase overall demand, but the process of structural economic change—the expansion of a new set of industries and the movement of workers to those industries—inevitably takes time.

Why do jobs vanish?

People can lose jobs for a variety of reasons: because of a recession, but also because of longer-run changes in the economy, such as new technology. Productivity improvements in auto manufacturing, for example, can reduce the number of workers needed, and eliminate these jobs in the long run. The internet has created jobs but also caused job loss, from travel agents to book store clerks. Many of these jobs may never come back. Short-run fiscal policy to reduce unemployment can create jobs, but it cannot replace jobs that will never return.