In dismissing John Boehner’s economic plan, which includes a call for rolling back discretionary spending increases and making the Bush tax cuts permanent, columnist Ruth Marcus writes:

The argument for immediate spending cuts is hard to square with the argument against tax increases. If the latter is harmful — a disaster, in Boehner’s words — then surely the former is as well.

Presumably, Marcus means that since both tax cuts and government spending are supposed to be “stimulus,” it’s a mistake to reduce one (spending) while implementing the other (tax cuts).

Yet surely Marcus recognizes that different things happen when people (and businesses) are allowed to keep more of their own money and when government dumps money into spending projects. For example, much of the recent stimulus bill was just spent to bailout states and prevent the layoff of public sector workers. That’s fine, but many of those public sector workers produce little of economic value. Paper pushers in the education bureaucracy, for example, may make it easier for states to comply with the piles of unnecessary rules issued by the federal government, but they don’t create jobs, develop useful new products or technologies, or create real wealth. And, of course, we also know that plenty of the stimulus money was essentially flushed down the proverbial toilet, on things like signs proclaiming that a project was funded by the stimulus legislation, sidewalks to nowhere, etc.

People and businesses usually try harder to put their money to productive use. We purchase items that add to our quality of life, make our businesses more efficient, or invest money in vehicles we believe will generate a return, and in the process make it possible for businesses to expand and hire workers. These different actions are sure to have profoundly different effects on the economy.

Marcus would benefit from this great econ 101 by Harvard’s N. Gregory Mankiw, which explained these concepts in more detail. In the meantime, she shouldn’t dismiss the idea that you can champion both tax cuts and spending cuts at the same time: in fact, it’s a policy prescription based on sound economics.