Posted by AzBlueMeanie:
The New York Times reported on Saturday that dispassionate economic analysts have reached a consensus that the stimulus package, messy as it is, is working. New Consensus Views Stimulus as Worthy Step:
The legislation, a variety of economists say, is helping an economy in free fall a year ago to grow again and shed fewer jobs than it otherwise would. Mr. Obama’s promise to “save or create” about 3.5 million jobs by the end of 2010 is roughly on track, though far more jobs are being saved than created, especially among states and cities using their money to avoid cutting teachers, police officers and other workers.
Mr. Gault added: “I don’t think it’s right to look at it by saying, ‘Well, the economy is still doing extremely badly, therefore the stimulus didn’t work.’ I’m afraid the answer is, yes, we did badly but we would have done even worse without the stimulus.”
In interviews, a broad range of economists said the White House and Congress were right to structure the package as a mix of tax cuts and spending, rather than just tax cuts as Republicans prefer or just spending as many Democrats do. And it is fortuitous, many say, that the money gets doled out over two years — longer for major construction — considering the probable length of the “jobless recovery” under way as wary employers hold off on new hiring.
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[Overly optimistic] assumptions in turn contributed to producing a package that if anything is too small, analysts say. “The economy was weaker than we thought at the time, so maybe in retrospect we could have used a little bit more and little bit more front-loaded,” said Joel Prakken, chairman of Macroeconomic Advisers, another financial analysis group, in St. Louis.
While some conservatives remain as skeptical as ever that big increases in government spending give the economy a jolt that is worth the cost, Martin Feldstein, a conservative Harvard economist who served in the Reagan administration, said the problem with the package was that some of its tax cuts and spending programs were of a variety that did little to spur the economy.
“There should have been more direct federal spending that would have added to aggregate demand,” he said. “Temporary tax cuts and one-time transfers to seniors were largely saved and didn’t stimulate spending.”
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Among Democrats in the White House and Congress, “there was a considerable amount of hand-wringing that it was too small, and I sympathized with that argument,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Economy.com and an occasional adviser to lawmakers [including John McCain's presidential campaign].
Even so, “the stimulus is doing what it was supposed to do — it is contributing to ending the recession,” he added, citing the economy’s third-quarter expansion by a 3.5 percent seasonally adjusted annual rate. “In my view, without the stimulus, G.D.P. would still be negative and unemployment would be firmly over 11 percent. And there are a little over 1.1 million more jobs out there as of October than would have been out there without the stimulus.”
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Much federal infrastructure money has gone not to new job-creating projects but to finance existing plans, which otherwise would be unaffordable to states.
So the stimulus has not “supercharged” transportation construction as was hoped, said Charles Gallagher, an asphalt company owner, speaking for the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, but it has nonetheless been “a welcome Band-Aid” to offset state cuts.
“Many contractors across the nation have been able to sustain, if not add to, their work force,” he said.
That sort of impact is what makes federal aid to state governments rank high in economists’ reckoning of the stimulus value of various proposals. Every dollar of additional infrastructure spending means $1.57 in economic activity, according to Moody’s, and general aid to states carries a $1.41 “bang” for each federal buck.
Even more effective are increases for food stamps ($1.74) and unemployment checks ($1.61), because recipients quickly spend their benefits on goods and services.
By contrast, most temporary tax cuts cost more than the stimulus they provide, according to research by Moody’s. That is true of two tax breaks in the stimulus law that Congress, pressed by industry lobbyists, recently extended and sweetened — a tax credit for homebuyers (90 cents of stimulus for each dollar of tax subsidy) and extra deductions for businesses’ net operating losses (21 cents).
Economists said Republicans’ recent proposals to rescind unspent money would be a mistake.
Before the usual suspects start huffing about how we can't afford to rescue the economy from the next great depression, Nobel Prize economist Paul Krugman (who consistently has argued that the stimulus package was too small and that we need another stimulus package focused on job creation) offers this Fiscal perspective:
It’s truly amazing, and depressing, how completely deficit-phobia has swept the field in Washington. The economy remains in deeply dire straits: here’s long-term unemployment:
Yet the respectable thing, all of a sudden, is to claim that we can’t possibly afford to spend any more money on job creation.
History says differently. Here’s a comparison of debt/GDP levels, actual levels for several countries (OECD for Belgium, IMF for the rest), and projected levels (from the IMF) for the United States. (Note that these are for general government, i.e., including state and local, so they’re higher than the numbers you usually read).
Yes, we’re going fairly deep into debt. No, it’s not unprecedented. Other advanced countries have been substantially deeper in debt without either defaulting or having runaway inflation — and some of those countries have historically had weak governments (Belgium because of the linguistic divide, and Italy because it’s Italy).
I’d be a little more forgiving of the nonsense if all the people screaming about the deficit were sincere. And some are. But many, if not most, are perfectly happy to incur huge unfunded liabilities for the wars they want to fight, and/or to eliminate inheritance taxes for the heirs of multimillionaires. It’s only deficits incurred to help working Americans that get them all moralistic.
Anyway, the point is that the economy desperately needs more help — and yes, we can afford to provide it.