A Stimulative Effect
by Charles Lemos, Wed Feb 17, 2010 at 11:30:50 AM EST
David Leonhardt of the New York Times finds that despite some minor flaws and some valid criticism that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has the done the job it was intended to do. In other words, the fiscal stimulus added 1.6 million to 1.8 million jobs so far and that its ultimate impact will roughly be an estimated 2.5 million jobs.
Pick just about any area of the economy and you come across the stimulus bill’s footprints.
In the early months of last year, spending by state and local governments was falling rapidly, as was tax revenue. In the spring, tax revenue continued to drop, yet spending jumped — during the very time when state and local officials were finding out roughly how much stimulus money they would be receiving. This is the money that has kept teachers, police officers, health care workers and firefighters employed.
Then there is corporate spending. It surged in the final months of last year. Mark Zandi of Economy.com (who has advised the McCain campaign and Congressional Democrats) says that the Dec. 31 expiration of a tax credit for corporate investment, which was part of the stimulus, is a big reason.
The story isn’t quite as clear-cut with consumer spending, as skeptics note. Its sharp plunge stopped before President Obama signed the stimulus into law exactly one year ago. But the billions of dollars in tax cuts, food stamps and jobless benefits in the stimulus have still made a difference. Since February, aggregate wages and salaries have fallen, while consumer spending has risen. The difference between the two — some $100 billion — has essentially come from stimulus checks.
The second argument in the bill’s favor is the history of financial crises. They have wreaked terrible damage on economies. Indeed, the damage tended to be even worse than what we have suffered.
Around the world over the last century, the typical financial crisis caused the jobless rate to rise for almost five years, according to work by the economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff. On that timeline, our rate would still be rising in early 2012. Even that may be optimistic, given that the recent crisis was so bad. As Ben Bernanke, Henry Paulson (Republicans both) and many others warned in 2008, this recession had the potential to become a depression.
Yet the jobless rate is now expected to begin falling consistently by the end of this year.
For that, the stimulus package, flaws and all, deserves a big heaping of credit. “It prevented things from getting much worse than they otherwise would have been,” Nariman Behravesh, Global Insight’s chief economist, says. “I think everyone would have to acknowledge that’s a good thing.”
The most effective part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was the direct aid to the states and to cities which kept the public sector - from school teachers to firemen - employed. And to be blunt, the fiscal stimulus kept a recession from a depression.
Now the Administration's task and ours is that they receive the credit for this achievement. With a Pew Research poll out this week showing that just 24 percent of Americans believe that the Administration's economic policies have things better versus 27 percent who believe that things are worse and 45 percent believing that they have had no effect at all, that job is arduous indeed.