Monday, November 16, 2009

Sahm et al. on the 2008 tax rebate

Claudia Sahm, Matthew Shapiro, and Joel Slemrod argue that micro-level survey results suggest people spent a third of their tax rebate checks. Their bottom line: "Absent the rebate, the sharp decline in spending that is evident in aggregate data beginning in the third quarter of 2008 would have started in the second quarter, prior to the financial crisis of the fall."

This stands in stark contrast to the perspective offered a year ago by John Taylor, who pointed out the complete lack of evidence in aggregate data of any consumption effect.

This reminds me of the back-and-forth over the Administration's "jobs created or saved" measure derived from surveys, criticized recently by Ed Lazear. If something doesn't show up in macroeconomic data, maybe it isn't there and maybe it is. What's the counterfactual? If it's a survey of intentions or actual outcomes, are the data good?