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Stimulus was Designed to Provide Pork and Payoffs, Not to Revive the Economy

Harvard University economist Jeffrey Miron argued that the $800 billion stimulus package wasn't even designed to stimulate the economy, but rather to benefit special-interest groups, since it flunked even old-fashioned Keynesian policy prescriptions about how to revive the economy. Recently-disclosed memos obtained by the New Yorker provide more evidence for this argument: "over the objection of his economic advisors, President Obama replaced $60 billion of 'highly stimulative spending’ with a slow-spending but 'inspiring' $20 billion for high-speed trains and $40 billion in pork for his Senate Democratic allies. And this is starting from a point at which he knew that his advisors thought that not more than $225 billion of the $826 billion total was high-quality, fast-spending, efficient stimulus."

This is not the only way that Obama ignored economics in favor of politics when drawing up the stimulus. Originally, economists wanted the stimulus to include the kinds of transportation spending that could boost the economy. But the stimulus package was purged of most investments in roads and bridges, and filled instead with welfare and social spending, out of political correctness, after feminist leaders complained that fixing roads and bridges would put unemployed blue-collar men to work, rather than women. Christina Hoff Sommers points out that “of the 5.7 million jobs Americans lost between December 2007 and May 2009, nearly 80 percent had been held by men,” because men “predominate in manufacturing and construction, the hardest-hit sectors.” But when some administration officials floated the concept of “an ambitious . . . stimulus program to modernize roads, bridges,” and infrastructure as a way of “reinvigorating the hardest-hit sectors of the economy,” “Women’s groups were appalled,” denouncing “The Macho Stimulus Plan.”  The Obama administration quickly knuckled under to this pressure, resulting in a "stimulus" package that spent money instead on social services like welfare that are administered mostly by female employees.  As an AP story noted “Stimulus Aid Favors Welfare, Not Work, Programs.” (The stimulus package largely repealed welfare reform).

The little “transportation” spending that remained in the stimulus package was disproportionately wasted on laying the groundwork for "high-speed" rail boondoggles that are not actually "high" in speed. These multibillion dollar rail boondoogles would provide work at inflated wages for politically-powerful unions. But these projects are expensive white elephants that would be used by very few travelers at an enormous cost per mile, and not enable trains to go anywhere near as fast as they do in Europe, Japan, or China. (Other union-backed provisions in the stimulus package wiped out jobs in America’s export sector.)

Similarly, the “green jobs” Obama promised in the stimulus package never came into being, as even The New York Times has conceded. Instead, the stimulus package's green-jobs spending ended up inadvertently outsourcing American jobs to China. The administration's green-energy programs also wiped out jobs in the furniture industry.

Obama relied on exaggerated claims to push through the stimulus package, claiming it was needed to prevent an “irreversible decline” in the economy,  even though the Congressional Budget Office admitted that the stimulus package would shrink the economy “in the long run.” Even an old-fashioned Keynesian stimulus might have been something that America could not afford at a time of record deficits. The Congressional Budget Office, ignoring the above flaws in the stimulus package, argued that it would boost the economy in "the short run." But even the CBO conceded that the stimulus would shrink economic output in "the long run" by increasing the national debt and thus crowding out private investment.