Why hasn’t the helicopter money option already been enacted? The main reason is simply that until very recently we thought we had cured chronic shortages of aggregate demand, so no one was really thinking about these issues. The other reason is that Congress has not yet gotten it together to pass a law allowing the Fed to cut checks to the American people.
But there’s no reason why they shouldn’t. Democrats should be for it because it is straight-up economic stimulus, writ large. And Republicans should be for it because it is the stimulus option that’s most in line with conservative values. To be sure, a whole lot of right-wing conservatives will object to the very notion—government checks give them the willies. And for conservatives with the strongest tendencies toward gold buggery, who are already freaked out that the Fed’s quantitative easing is debasing the currency and setting us up for hyperinflation, the idea will never be in favor. But what conservatives really objected to about the Obama stimulus and all subsequent Democratic proposals for fiscal pump priming was not so much the fiscal consequences, despite what they said—after all, they favored the Iraq War and the Bush tax cuts, which drove up the debt, and voted for Paul Ryan’s budget, which would have done the same. What really infuriates them about Democratic stimulus measures is that it is spending by government, meant to achieve government priorities, and delivered through government channels in ways that enhance the reach and influence of the government.
The helicopter money policy, by contrast, keeps government almost completely out of the picture. It distributes resources directly to citizens, with no limits on how they can spend it, thereby strengthening individual choice and the private sector, not government bureaucracies. It’s a stimulus Milton Friedman could love. And if everyone gets the same-sized check, there’s not even a concession to the god of progressivity—it’s like a flat tax in reverse! There will be a Republican president again someday, and as we’ve seen, it is highly likely that government will face the same weak growth and high unemployment we face today. This is a tool as friendly to the conservatives’ ideology as they are likely to find.
In any case, we shouldn’t forget the relative simplicity of what’s wrong with our economy right now: it’s a simple divergence between incentives for production and those for consumption. The money supply is a very powerful tool to fix that misalignment of incentives, and its power is communal. It comes from the fact that it is accepted as a medium of exchange by all 310 million Americans. We should not fear to use that tool, and to provide badly needed help to millions of people in the process.