The economic stimulus program doesn't appear to be working yet. Depending on whom you talk to, it's either because the money is going to the wrong places or is being misused at the right ones.
In Washington, officials point out that most of the stimulus money hasn't been spent yet so it's too early to conclude it isn't working. But official Washington is also abuzz with the suggestion that a second stimulus is needed. So, which is it?
Mere mortals cannot understand these things. "Obama not talking about second stimulus," the Washington Post says. "Top Obama Aides: Second Stimulus "Might Eventually Be Needed," is the headline at USNews.com today. Same source, different headlines.
USA Today's headline is "Billions in aid go to areas that backed Obama in '08." The suggestion is obvious, isn't it?
The reports show the 872 counties that supported Obama received about $69 per person, on average. The 2,234 that supported McCain received about $34.
It's not until well into the story we get the punch line:
Investigators who track the stimulus are skeptical that political considerations could be at work.
With a few exceptions, Obama won the more populous states. And even in states he didn't win, the population centers of those states -- that is, big cities -- showed strong support. Shouldn't the stimulus money go where people are?
The reason no one can say for certain that the stimulus is or isn't working is because months after its passage we still can't agree on what it was supposed to do.
"States aren't using money as intended," USA Today said this week.
Under pressure to spend stimulus money quickly, many states are using the federal funds for short-term projects and to fill budget gaps rather than spending on long-term improvements, according to a report by congressional investigators.
The assertion comes from no less than the General Accounting Office (read the full report).
Minnesota used the money to help plug its massive budget deficit. It shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. Officials said that's what they were going to do last February. Minneapolis used the money to keep some cops employed, and that got a shout-out from Obama.
In Minnesota, stimulus money is supposed to create (or save) 66,000 jobs.
Minnesota arts groups are getting about $1 million in economic stimulus, MPR's Elizabeth Baier reported this morning. MPR is getting $50,000. "We will primarily use the funds to restore the position of assistant producer for Performance Today and for content support for Performance Today and Symphony Cast," according to Christina Schmitt, public relations manager for American Public Media.
The Weisman Art Museum is getting $50,000 in stimulus funs. It'll hire an assistant curator. Perhaps that's how the stimulus will work if it's going to work: One assistant at a time.
One thing that was mentioned in the NPR Morning Edition story this morning on the stimulus is that people are saving, rather than spending their tax cuts. This is obviously a good plan for individuals, but it isn't having the intended effect on the broader economy.
"The economic stimulus program doesn't appear to be working yet. Depending on whom you talk to, it's either because the money is going to the wrong places or is being misused at the right ones."
The missing alternative is that it is working, but the effect isn't visible yet. See, for example, the graph (created in January, if I read correctly) on Paul Krugman's blog it suggests that by mid-2009 we would only see a very small effect from the stimulus, and we'd have to wait until early 2010 before unemployment actually starts falling.
Thank you, Jon. Krugman's graph is interesting. I believe Ben Bernanke said the recession would (or might) end in the 4th quarter of 2009.
Given the "lagging indicator" of unemployment, I think I'm going to use that as my personal barometer. I don't see how unemployment can drop until the recession ends first and if the recession ends, I presume that's the first sign the stimulus worked.
"In Washington, officials point out that most of the stimulus money hasn't been spent yet so it's too early to conclude it isn't working."
It may be too early to conclude the stimulus isn't working, but it is not too soon to conclude that the stimulus was poorly designed; or at a minimum, poorly explained. As a rule, voters aren't patient, so it should be no surprise that people are looking around, asking "what happened to the economic turnaround?"
Money going to short term projects?
Well, you just got a $1,000 tax rebate. What do you spend it on - groceries and gas ... or your mortgage/IRA?