It wasn’t until the 1940s that economists realized that a balanced-budget stimulus could be effective, too. As I’ve discussed in earlier columns, economists starting with Walter S. Salant and Paul A. Samuelson realized that during a depression or in near-depression conditions, any government expenditure fully funded by taxes will increase national income approximately one for one, without raising national debt. This is known as the balanced-budget multiplier.
The public improvements suggested in the president’s proposal would have been fully paid for by the bill’s tax surcharge. And any new legislation we now consider could also pay for such improvements with tax increases, so as not to raise the national debt even temporarily. This idea should still have common-sense appeal to Americans in this time of high unemployment, just as the idea of winter work does on the farm.