Meanwhile, Back On Planet Earth

Noam Scheiber notices that it isn't Planet Washington:

...the stimulus wasn't a political question--none of us wants to live through a decade-long depression. It was an engineering question--how do you prevent the economy from collapsing? And engineering questions do have objectively right answers.

(We may not be able to come up with the answer exactly, but there is a right answer and we can get close.) In this case, we know the output gap will be about $2 trillion over the next two years. When you have an output gap that big, you've got to fill it or you risk a deflationary spiral. There really isn't much debate about this among economists, who are the engineers in this example. And yet you have people treating it as though it were a political question--Republicans objecting on principle to the idea of a stimulus, centrists scaling it back because they think it's irresponsible to spend so much.

By way of analogy, suppose there were some deadly disease spreading through the population, and that public health experts agreed we had to spend around $10 billion on vaccinations to avoid an epidemic. Since no one wants to see millions of people die, this doesn't really pose a political question. It poses a technical question, and the experts have told us what it's going to take (in their best judgment). In that context, does it make sense for one side to oppose the response because it requires too much big government? Does it make sense for a group of centrists to get together and say, "Well, $10 billion seems like a lot, but we'd sign on to $7.5 billion?" Of course not. That's lunacy. And yet the Republicans and Senate moderates have basically imposed this outcome on us in the stimulus back and forth.