I know what you’re thinking: it would be crazy. Either it would be a fast track to crippling inflation or it’s some Republican satire of an ultra-liberal government handout program. But it is not quite as radical as it sounds. The key idea behind such a program has a longstanding, bipartisan economic pedigree. John Stuart Mill argued in 1829 that mass unemployment was caused by “a deficiency of the circulating medium” relative to other commodities. John Maynard Keynes used the idea in his 1936 book, The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, to lampoon the inherent silliness of gold mining, suggesting that old coal mines could be filled up with bottles full of banknotes, buried over with trash, then left “to private enterprise on well-tried principles of laissez-faire to dig the notes up again.” Milton Friedman suggested that monetary policy could never fail to cure mass unemployment, because as a last resort the central bank could just drop cash out of helicopters—an enticing analogy that former Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke borrowed in a 2002 speech, earning himself the persistent nickname of “Helicopter Ben.” Free Money Images

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The third policy option is known as nominal gross domestic product targeting, the major proponent of which is the economist Scott Sumner. The idea is all about self-fulfilling expectations. Recall that the central bank owns the printing press, so it can create arbitrary quantities of dollars. By making a pre-commitment to keep the economy on a particular spending trajectory, self-fulfilling collapses in spending would not happen. Something similar to this policy seems to have kept Australia and Israel out of the Great Recession. But in order to sustain such a policy, the Fed might have to intervene in the economy quite frequently, and then the distributional consequences could be serious. Quantitative easing, for example, helps push up asset prices (the stock market has regained all the ground lost since 2009 and then some), which disproportionately benefits the wealthy. Free Money Machine