A primary goal of the government today should be to stimulate the economy to, in principle, cause hiring to create additional GDP. US companies are sitting on record balances of cash, so they have no problem funding capital expansion and hiring. The low interest rates may help them on current interest payments by some refinancing, but otherwise makes not difference to them. They see no demand for more goods and services beyond what they currently plan to produce, so they sit and wait. They are waiting to be signaled by consumers to increase production by consumers buying more goods and services than these companies are currently planning for. This is the demand signal that moves companies to hire workers and invest in capital expansion.
Consumers, seeing their pay stagnate or shrink, and being up to their ears in debt, are in no position to increase their spending to create the demand needed to signal companies. So, they muddle through hoping not to loose the jobs they have and become one of the tens of millions of unemployed.
The long-term unemployed try to find work, but are unable. Neither are they in much of a position to start businesses of their own. I suppose some try to do odd jobs or deal things at flea market and on line. But they just hope to find some decent job before their unemployment runs out. BTW, unemployment insurance payment is the one fiscal stimulus that is actually in effect to boost demand.
I believe this whole line of argument is the one Keynes made to justify government intervention in the first place. And that fiscal policy is needed during recessions.
Consumers are spending all they can afford to, but that level is below the amount that the businesses in the economy are structured to produce. The lack of growth in the economy is because the consumer isn't buying more. And the consumer isn't buying more because they lack the income to do so. In other words, incomes have not kept up with expectations of producers. So, production is cut back to a level that consumers can currently afford. This means the supply and demand curve is moved to lower demand and thus lower supply at a lower price. This is source of the lack of inflation that we've been seeing.
What is needed is for consumers incomes to grow, which would spur purchasing, which would spur increased production, which would spur hiring and capital expansion. Which would...increase incomes. This is, in fact, wage inflation. Prices would necessarily rise as demand is bid up by rising incomes, and rising supply would only happen if prices were bid up to motivate the increase in production.
The happy side effects of this wage inflation are: lowered unemployment, raised taxes, and likely increases in long term profits for companies as those sales increases accrue over the years. This is a much better situation for all then if those unemployed stay idle, government deficits continue at the current pace, and production at companies remain below the potential output.
Going back to Keynes, this is where the government needs to step in. How to achieve wage inflation? By cutting taxes on wage earners. I.e. those folks who make their incomes through work producing real goods and services. Also known as the middle class and the working class. The groups who have been taking the brunt of the economic crisis. One which they largely didn't create. How to pay for this? By increasing taxes on those who benefit by increased incomes from unproductive activities. I.e. Wall St types and those who's incomes come from rents and capital gains. This isn't a punitive suggestion, merely a recognition that the wealth is flowing to those groups and they are not spending it to produce increased demand for the goods and services that the nation's companies are set up to produce. Such a trade off of taxes would be essentially revenue neutral, but would increase demand in the economy and send it back to full production and employment.
Such a suggestion goes against the entire "cut taxes on job creators and the wealthy" arguments. But, I think that those arguments were weak to begin with, and have now been largely discredited by the current economic and financial crisis. Will government have the will to make these changes? Will the economics profession have the will to acknowledge these new policies are the correct ones to make? Only time will tell.