Reflecting on the recent outcome of the Canadian election, in which the Liberal Party of Canada cast itself as a progressive left of center party and reversed its fortunes in a major way to win a strong majority government, Larry Summers wrote in the Washington Post that “More infrastructure investment is not just good economics. It is good politics. Let us hope that American presidential candidates get the word!”
Anyone who has heard Mr. Summers speak over the course of at least the last five years will be familiar with his message, that he can’t imagine a better time—with historically low interest rates, lower wages, and higher unemployment—to be investing in the country’s infrastructure. Just when would be a better time to revamp Kennedy airport, and the nation’s roads, bridges, and dams, than now?
Paul Krugman echoes the same sentiment in a New York Times column entitled, somewhat inappropriately, “Keynes Comes to Canada.”
Good economics it is, and not simply for pump-priming reasons in the old Keynesian way. If there is a rock solid case to be made for productivity improving public investments, it should be made regardless of the state of the macro-economy.
But as the obvious frustration in the tone of Mr. Summers’ voice suggests, the fact that his advice does not lead to policy, suggests good economics doesn’t always line up with good politics. And there are a number of peculiarities in both personalities of political leaders, and the structure of politics, suggesting the Canadian example does not automatically translate to the American setting.