Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Obligatory Stimulus Quote Post, Part III

President Barack Obama:

Now is the time to make the tough choices.
Russell Roberts:
Rather than spending money we don't have, I wish Obama would use his political capital to change the parts of our political system that are dysfunctional - our entitlement programs that are demographically bankrupt, our broken budget system, our Byzantine tax system, our financial system that is in disarray. These changes would be more likely to create the confidence and trust in the future that our economy needs to get healthy again rather than borrowing and spending. Borrowing and spending is how we got into this mess. Let's look in a different direction.
Howard L. Cole and Lee E. Ohanian:
The goal of the New Deal was to get Americans back to work. But the New Deal didn't restore employment. In fact, there was even less work on average during the New Deal than before FDR took office. Total hours worked per adult, including government employees, were 18% below their 1929 level between 1930-32, but were 23% lower on average during the New Deal (1933-39). Private hours worked were even lower after FDR took office, averaging 27% below their 1929 level, compared to 18% lower between in 1930-32.
Johann Hari:
[I]n 1936, FDR wobbled. He listened to the people making the fiscally conservative case and slashed spending. Unemployment rose again - producing the spike in unemployment that people like Osborne now perversely cite as evidence that the New Deal didn't work. But the reality stands. When FDR spent, unemployment fell. When FDR cut back, unemployment rose.
Howard L. Cole and Lee E. Ohanian:
Even comparing hours worked at the end of 1930s to those at the beginning of FDR's presidency doesn't paint a picture of recovery. Total hours worked per adult in 1939 remained about 21% below their 1929 level, compared to a decline of 27% in 1933. And it wasn't just work that remained scarce during the New Deal. Per capita consumption did not recover at all, remaining 25% below its trend level throughout the New Deal, and per-capita nonresidential investment averaged about 60% below trend. The Great Depression clearly continued long after FDR took office.
Johann Hari:
[P]erhaps the clincher is the answer to a bigger question: how did the Great Depression end? It didn't stop with the conservative suggestion: slashed spending, slashed debt and slashed government activity. It ended with precisely the opposite: the vast fiscal stimulus of the Second World War. The government sent debt soaring to its highest levels in US history (until today) in order to spend more than ever before. It set up the longest boom in US history.
Howard L. Cole and Lee E. Ohanian:
The wartime economic boom reflected not only the enormous resource drain of military spending, but also the erosion of New Deal labor and industrial policies.
It wasn’t such a matter of a big “stimulus” that brought us out of the Depression, America also had the luxury of producing in an era where their European competition had effectively been destroyed or reallocated to other priorities (both during and after the war). During the war, people were still living on meager means due to rationing and whatnot. Much of the workforce was sent to the military and there just be couldn’t be the same level of unemployment given the production opportunity and (relative) lack of job competition.
N. Gregory Mankiw:
If you hire your neighbor for $100 to dig a hole in your backyard and then fill it up, and he hires you to do the same in his yard, the government statisticians report that things are improving. The economy has created two jobs, and the G.D.P. rises by $200. But it is unlikely that, having wasted all that time digging and filling, either of you is better off.
Megan McArdle:
How DARE I claim that stimulus spending didn't get us out of the Great Depression? GDP growth was really, really high under FDR!!!!
Wall Street Journal:
$2 billion for child-care subsidies.
Frank J. Tipler:
Macroeconomists should realize that the inability of their theories to make accurate predictions means that they do not know what they are talking about. We non-economists should realize this also, and realize that our leaders, who are being advised by macroeconomists, haven’t got a clue where they are leading us. Their actions may lead us out of the current recession, or they may lead us into a depression as bad as the Great Depression.
Megan McArdle:
We might as well move macroeconomic policy to the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives.
Robert Samuelson:
In its releases, the White House gushes superlatives. The stimulus program, says one fact sheet, "launches the most ambitious school modernization program on record," "computerizes every American's health record in five years" and "undertakes the largest weatherization" -- insulation -- "program in history." What a bonanza of good stuff!
The proposed increase in highway funding would raise spending to $40 billion, reflecting complaints from lawmakers in both parties that Obama's plan doesn't do enough to relieve a backlog of unfinished projects. Mass transit programs would get a $5 billion boost, while water projects would get $7 billion more.
Andrew Taylor:
Earlier in the day, the Senate turned back a proposal to add $25 billion for public works projects, a rejection engineered by Republicans critical of the bill's size and voicing skepticism of its ability to create jobs.
Senator James Inhofe (R.-OK):
We can't add to the size of this bill ... The amount is just inconceivable to most people.
Wall Street Journal:
$50 million for that great engine of job creation, the National Endowment for the Arts.
Jennifer Rubin:
There was, it seems, a good deal of miscalculation involved. The White House team bet Nancy Pelosi would come up with a bill that passed the smell test. They bet the Republicans, after a shellacking on Election Day, wouldn’t have the nerve to stand up to the President no matter what was in it. And they bet the public would support anything the President did. As it turned out, they were wrong on all three counts.
Mitchell Bard:
It all started with the stimulus bill in the House, where the Democrats caved to GOP demands and handed over a third of the legislation to tax cuts, even though economists of both parties agree that tax cuts are not as effective in stimulating consumer spending as government spending is.
New York Times:
There continues to be a debate among economists about how best to give a kick to the economy.
Yuval Levin:
When they manage to unify the entire House Republican caucus with David Brooks and Peggy Noonan, you know the Democrats have seriously botched something up. And boy, they really have. The more you look at the stimulus bill the clearer it becomes that it is the Congressional Democrats, not the opponents of this bill, who have failed to see that we are in a genuine and exceptional crisis. They’re working to use the moment as an opportunity to advance the same agenda they haven’t been able to move (with good reason) for a decade and more, and in the process are showing that agenda to be what we always knew it was: a massively wasteful, reckless, profligate, slovenly, higgledy-piggledy mess of interest group troughs and technocratic fantasies devoid of any economic thinking or sense of proportion.
Robert Samuelson:
What's also sacrificed are measures that, though lacking in long-term benefits, might help the economy now. A $7,500 tax credit for any home buyer in the next year (and not just first-time buyers, as is now in the bill) might reduce bloated housing inventories. Similarly, a temporary $1,500 credit for car or truck purchases might revive sales, down a third from 2007 levels.
Mitchell Bard:
Let's face it, the Republicans are talking one game, while playing another. They are pretending to be opposed to the stimulus bill only because of its makeup, as if there is a spending plan they would sign on to. And they're using this bogus argument as a way of trying to push through more tax cuts, the very failed policy that was rejected by voters in November. They are still trying to abide by the Bush administration rule of serving the wealthy at the expense of average Americans.
Star Parker:
Nowhere -- anytime or anyplace -- has economic growth and prosperity been created by government taking the money of its own citizens and spending it as it sees fit.
Frank Rich:
The current G.O.P. acts as if it — and we — have all the time in the world. It kept hoping in vain that the fast-waning Blago sideshow would somehow impale Obama or Rahm Emanuel. It has come perilously close to wishing aloud that a terrorist attack will materialize to discredit Obama’s reversals of Bush policy on torture, military tribunals and Gitmo. The party’s sole consistent ambition is to play petty politics to gum up the works.
Wall Street Journal:
$83 billion for the earned income credit for people who don't pay income tax.
Frank Rich:
The crisis is at least as grave as the one that confronted us — and, for a time, united us — after 9/11. Which is why the antics among Republicans on Capitol Hill seem so surreal. These are the same politicians who only yesterday smeared the patriotism of any dissenters from Bush’s “war on terror.” Where is their own patriotism now that economic terror is inflicting far more harm on their constituents than Saddam Hussein’s nonexistent W.M.D.?
Chicago Tribune:
No pork in stimulus plan, Joe Biden says.
The more I watch Joe Biden, the more I pray for the president’s health.
Senator John McCain (R.-AZ):
We need to have in our view more tax cuts and less spending. But we can negotiate.
Mitchell Bard:
McCain knows he lost in November, right? He knows he presented the American people with a vision that included continuing the Bush administration's economic policies, including more tax cuts, while Obama offered a different plan, including stimulus spending to jump-start the economy, and America chose Obama's plan, right? Of course he does. But he obviously doesn't care.
Globe and Mail:
The Canadian government expressed optimism Saturday that the U.S. might climb down from a so-called “Buy American” trade policy that several countries have warned could start a trade war.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs:
I'm going to say this for, like, the fourth time: The administration is reviewing that provision.
Jane Hamsher:
But Blue Dog commitment to "fiscal conservatism" is usually some phony exercises in "centrism" where they get concessions for K-Street lobbyists and let just enough Blue Dogs vote for passage so those allowed off leash can deliver self-righteous lectures in sonorous tones about "fiscal responsibility." It's time Cooper and the Blue Dogs demonstrate their commitment to "pay-as-you-go" principles and really pay or this bill, instead of just pretending to.
Megan McArdle:
There are a lot of people in my comments saying, apparently in all earnesty, "I really think the burden of proof is on the wackos who don't want the stimulus."

I am frankly flabbergasted. The proponents of the stimulus are proposing to spend nearly a trillion dollars. That's about $3,000 for every man, woman, and child in the United States. Do you have $3,000 lying around that could just be spent on any old thing without you really caring? You may call me crazy, but in the McArdle household, we view $3,000 as quite a tidy sum, the kind of money we want to make sure is wisely spent.
Representative Barney Frank (D.-MA):
I never saw a tax cut fix a bridge. I never saw a tax cut give us more public transportation.
Jacob Sullum:
That seems to be the theory underlying the "stimulus" package: We can't depend on consumers to spend money they don't have on stuff they don't need, so the government has to do it for them.
Noam Scheiber:
This afternoon, the CBO released its official scoring of the overall stimulus package. And, wouldn't you know, the agency says slightly north of 78 percent of it will pay out over the first two fiscal years.
Matthew Yglesias:
With the whole thing done, it seems that two thirds of the funds will flow within 18 months of enacting the plan. Of course it's true that 100 percent would be better. And even truer that if we had passed a stimulus plan back last September rather than experiencing months of delay thanks to conservative intransigence this problem wouldn't be so severe.
Megan McArdle:
But in the context of stimulus, eighteen months is a long damn time. Eighteen months is, in fact, about how long it takes a stimulus to work through the system. If for no other reason, that ought to be a little worrisome for progressives because that means the stimulus won't have even 2/3 of its full effect until after midterms. It is simply not "even truer" that conservative intransigence is causing worse delays than the focus on spending the money on massive new projects. It's not even as true. It's not true at all. No matter how you assess the relative benefits of spending to tax cuts, tax cuts could be 95% out the door in April. So could many other kinds of rapid government spending--preventing fare cuts on transit systems, sure, but also repainting all the faded yellow lines on highways, or repairing park benches, redecorating government offices, etc.
Hugh Hewitt:
Finally, and perhaps less obvious to many conservatives, Senate Republicans ought to be pushing for a huge allocation of funds to sensitive habitat acquisitions. Over at, a search of "habitat" turns up about $2 billion in various places connected to habitat purchases or enhancements, but the opportunity to both serve the goal of environmental protection/conservation and pump priming is far larger than that amount suggests.

Hundreds of thousands of acres of private property in the south and the west are burdened with land-use restrictions as a result of the habitats, species, and wetlands they support. The environmental laws of the country unfairly transfer to these property owners the entire cost of the national goal of species/habitat protections. Many of these landowners (I have represented scores of them over the past 20 years) are entrepreneurial and eager to invest in and develop their property but find themselves locked into endless land-use battles with the federal and state governments and activists, battles which even when they are won drain resources and productivity.

A massive allocation of the looming appropriation to the acquisition of property highly-valued by environmental activists and federal regulators would instantly serve the goals of the activists while also pushing capital into the hands of the landowners for their reinvestment and use elsewhere. Condemnation should be prohibited, but if even 5% of the stimulus was directed towards a national program of arms-length transactions securing the most sought-after private property at fair market values, many goals would be served and the federal dollars would flow quickly back into the private economy with a minimum of red tape and bureaucracy. If, say, $40 billion were allocated to the effort with at least 50% allocated on a per capita basis among the states, President Obama would oversee the expansion of federal land holdings in the name of conservation to rival that of [Teddy Roosevelt's] while also lifting the extraordinary burden on private property owners forced to sit with their assets idled by these laws.
President Barack Obama:
What we can't do is let very modest differences get in the way [of swiftly enacting the stimulus legislation].
Wall Street Journal:
$400 million for global warming research.
Check back after the passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to see how and where your tax dollars are spent.