There are three ways government can get the money for a stimulus package. It can tax, borrow or inflate the currency by printing money. If government taxes to hand out money, one person is stimulated at the expense of another who pays the tax, who is unstimulated and has less money to spend. If government borrows the money, it's the same story. This time the unstimulated person is the lender who has less money to spend. If government prints money, creditors, and then everyone else, are unstimulated. As my colleague Russell Roberts said in a NPR broadcast, "It's like taking a bucket of water from the deep end of a pool and dumping it into the shallow end. Funny thing – the water in the shallow end doesn't get any deeper."
If we are headed into a recession, these proposed stimulus packages will make little difference. Previous experiences have shown that 1) it takes a long time to enact tax law, making it too late to prevent a recession, and 2) many people save a large portion of any tax rebate.
A far more important measure Congress can take toward a healthy economy is to insure that the 2003 tax cuts don't expire in 2010 as scheduled. If not, there are 15 separate taxes scheduled to rise in 2010, costing Americans $200 billion a year in increased taxes. Adding to the economic effects of that tax increase are the disincentive effects of the measures that Americans will take between now and then in anticipation of those tax increases. According to economists Tracy Foertsch and Ralph Rector, making the 2003 tax cuts permanent will annually add $76 billion to the GDP, create 709,000 jobs and add $200 billion to personal income.