Costly Legislation

by Elaine Schwartz    •    May 28, 2010    •    589 Views

Looking at a recent NY Times article, whose title was, “Cost of Jobs Bill Leaves Some Democrats Leery,” I wondered whether the author realized just how many costs his discussion involved. If passed, the bill would extend jobless pay, provide health insurance subsidies for the unemployed, a summer jobs program, and a tax hike for affluent investors. As economists, we can see its costs as sacrifice.

The immediate cost of the bill is its expense; money spent on it could be used elsewhere or saved. Other costs (sacrifices) include a lower federal deficit, more economic growth, and the economic efficiency that freedom can spawn. Thinking of the unemployed, generous benefits could lead to more joblessness as they have in Europe. And yet, will the jobless experience too high a cost if government does not offer more of a lifeline?

Yes, it is complicated. Which cost are we willing to pay?

The Economic Lesson

Economist Milton Friedman will always be remembered for emphasizing that there is never a free lunch. Even if someone else pays the bill, still, in some way, at some time, the recipient will have experienced a cost. Considering the trade offs surrounding a social safety net, we are sacrificing efficiency for equality.

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