Steve Chapman

Even some experts who favor keeping tax rates low doubt that extending the Bush tax cuts beyond 2010 would do anything for the economy right now. "As a tool for dealing with this crisis, I don't know," Nobel Laureate economist Robert Lucas of the University of Chicago told me. "It's misleading to advertise them as an anti-recession device."

In fact, it's misleading to advertise any fiscal policy as an anti-recession device. University of California, Berkeley economist Alan Auerbach examined all the different tools that have been tried in the last 50 years and found "little evidence that these effects have provided a significant contribution to economic stabilization, if in fact they have worked in the right direction at all."

Everyone wants to do something. But holding off on a fiscal stimulus package wouldn't exactly mean doing nothing. Monetary policy has historically had a more potent and predictable effect on the economy than fiscal policy, and in recent months Ben Bernanke has been spraying money with a fire hose -- cutting interest rates, boosting bank reserves 15-fold since August and taking radical steps like buying up short-term commercial debt.

All those steps will pay off, but they take time. Adding fiscal measures would probably be superfluous. If you want to go to the 10th floor on an elevator, punching the button over and over won't get you there any faster. We can throw a lot of money at the recession, but in the end, what we'll get is no hastening of recovery and a big stack of bills.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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