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Greenspan, Rubin, and Herbert Hoover

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Herbert Hoover's disciples are making noises even as America moves closer towards a double dip recession.

Fed Chair Alan Greenspan tells the New York Times all the Bush tax cuts should expire as scheduled, even those that benefit the middle class and not the rich. His reason: the nation's looming deficit requires it.

On Sunday, former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, appearing on CNN, says any further effort to stimulate the economy would be "counter productive," and that policy makers instead should craft a deficit-reduction plan.

Greenspan is only partly wrong. The Bush tax cuts should expire for the top 2 percent of filers (those earning over $250,000) because they save rather than spend a large portion of their incomes, and we need all the spending we can get. The cuts should be extended for everyone else because they'll spend them. The top 2 percent now receive almost a quarter of total national income, which is one reason why the middle class doesn't have the purchasing power to lift the economy on its own. The best way to give them even more purchasing power would be to give the middle class a larger tax cut -- say, a payroll tax holiday on the first $20,000 of income.

Rubin is entirely wrong. As Friday's jobs report shows, the gap between total private spending (consumers plus business plus net exports), on the one side, and the nation's capacity to produce goods and services at or near full employment, on the other, is still a chasm. So government needs to do more spending now, in the short term, in order to get people back to work and the economy back on track.

In 1999, both Greenspan and Rubin urged Congress to repeal the Glass-Steagall Act that had safely separated commercial from investment banking. In 2000 they argued against allowing the Commodity Futures Trading Corporation to regulate derivatives. Until recently, Rubin ran the executive committee at Citigroup, whose excesses required a massive taxpayer bailout. In 2001 Greenspan supported the Bush tax cuts that blew a gigantic hole in the federal deficit and mostly benefited the wealthy. In 2002 he lowered interest rates to near zero but refused to oversee how banks were using their almost-free borrowings.

Both Greenspan and Rubin are deficit hawks. So was Herbert Hoover and so was Hoover's Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon. And look what Hoover and Mellon got us into. When we least need him, Hoover is being exhumed.

This post originally appeared at RobertReich.org.