Tag: economic recovery

Oberstar Comes to the EDA’s Defense

When Rep. Jim Oberstar (D-MN) lost his bid for reelection in November, it brought to an end a congressional career that spanned nearly a half century. As a former chairman of the House Transportation Committee, Oberstar’s faith in the ability of the federal government to turn taxpayer water into wine was typical for a politician ensconced in the Washington Beltway bubble.

Oberstar reemerged this week to voice his support for legislation reauthorizing the Economic Development Administration, which is still being debated on the Senate floor. In an op-ed written for The Hill, Oberstar says that “It is disheartening to see that the agency I helped create more than 45 years ago which has had constant bipartisan support is now under unwarranted partisan attack in an economic environment when the kinds of jobs this agency helps create are needed more than ever.”

Oberstar says that it is “particularly troubling” that the EDA is receiving scrutiny after being unanimously reauthorized only three years ago. And without specifically naming him, Oberstar takes a shot at Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) for turning against the agency after having previously “supported and praised EDA investments in his home state.” Considering how rare it is for a member of Congress to admit to having made a mistake, I’d say that DeMint’s recent admission in the Wall Street Journal that he was wrong to have supported the EDA is refreshing.

DeMint correctly noted that the mistaken rationale behind the EDA’s creation during the Great Society is the same as the Democrat’s $814 billion stimulus bill: government programs can solve economic problems. Indeed, the longer the economic recovery remains sluggish and uncertain, the more the American people are questioning the ability of the federal government to simply turn on the money spigot and make the pain go away. For people like Jim Oberstar, that’s an unsettling development.

Many Americans are starting to understand what my colleagues and I have been repeatedly pointing out: there’s no free lunch when it comes to government programs. As a Cato essay on the Economic Development Administration explains, claims of the benefits from spending only look at half of the equation:

The EDA does create government jobs, and perhaps some private sector jobs, but that is only the visible effect. What is invisible, or ignored by policymakers, are the jobs never created because of the taxes that were raised to pay for EDA programs. Every dollar that the government extracts from the economy to pay for programs destroys more than a dollar of private sector economic activity. Taxation reduces the resources available for private sector job creation, and it also distorts the economy by altering price signals for working, saving, and other productive activities.

Oberstar offers anecdotal evidence of the EDA’s successes and trots out the familiar job creation and private sector leveraging claims often made by the agency’s proponents. For instance, he touts the EDA’s “exclusive mission of creating and retaining American jobs by leveraging private investment in the nation’s economically distressed communities and every dollar that the agency invests leverages another $6.90 in private/public investment to create the economic environment for small business to grow and prosper.”

One of the examples Oberstar cites as an example of an EDA success is support for “Washington State’s growing wine industry which currently employs more than 14,000 people and generates more than $3 billion to the state’s economy.” That’s an odd choice after touting the EDA’s assistance to the “nation’s economically distressed communities.” Besides, why should federal tax-paying winemakers in states other than Washington have to effectively subsidize their competition? And as the Cato essay notes, if the EDA is “generating real returns” as Oberstar states, then “surely local entrepreneurs and venture capitalists would be interested in funding such projects without government help.”

Finally, Oberstar singles out Cato for citing “three decade old GAO reports” in our criticism of the EDA. Actually, Cato’s essay on the EDA cites reports going back three decades.

Deloitte Survey: Concerns about Government

A Deloitte Growth Enterprise Services survey of 527 executives at mid-market companies (annual revenues of between $50 million and $1 billion) found “tempered optimism” that the economic recovery will continue. However, the survey also found significant concern over government fiscal and regulatory policies.

A whopping 50 percent cited federal, state, and local debt as the greatest obstacle to U.S. growth in the coming year. Lack of consumer confidence (39 percent) and rising health care costs (33 percent) came in second and third. Lest anyone construe the executives’ concern about government debt as implied support for tax increases, high tax rates came in fourth at 30 percent. Government austerity, which can include tax increases, and infrastructure needs came in at 15 and 9 percent, respectively.

When asked to choose up to three items that represent their company’s main obstacle to growth, only 21 percent cited government budget cuts. I’m frankly surprised that the figure isn’t higher considering that a number of these companies probably “do business” with government. Increased regulatory compliance was only a tick higher at 22 percent. Health care costs came in third at 30 percent, and uncertain economic outlook was first at 41 percent. I would pin that uncertainty on government policies. It is likely that a substantial number of the respondents would agree given other survey results.

Reducing corporate tax rates (33 percent) was the clear winner when the executives were asked to choose up to two measures by the U.S. government that would most help mid-size businesses grow in the next year. Keeping interest rates low (32 percent) was close behind, followed by rolling back health care reform (23 percent). Keynesian measures that are popular in the White House, supporting increased infrastructure investment and stimulating private consumption, came in at 19 percent and 14 percent, respectively.

Finally, many, if not the majority, of respondents expect regulatory costs to increase next year, particularly in the area of health care reform. Respondents expect the president’s Affordable Care Act to sharply increase costs (33 percent) or slightly increase costs (33 percent). A majority (56 percent) expect tax compliance costs to increase. A near majority (49 percent) expect both economic and occupational health & safety regulatory costs to increase.

In sum, the good news is that optimism is on the rise in the business community. The bad news is that the heavy hand of government is still a dark cloud hovering over the recovery.

ObamaCare Is Undermining Economic Recovery, Job Growth

In a recent Wall Street Journal oped, Carnegie-Mellon economist Allan Meltzer explains how ObamaCare is delaying economic recovery:

Two overarching reasons explain the failure of Obamanomics. First, administration economists and their outside supporters neglected the longer-term costs and consequences of their actions. Second, the administration and Congress have through their deeds and words heightened uncertainty about the economic future. High uncertainty is the enemy of investment and growth…

Mr. Obama has denied the cost burden on business from his health-care program, but business is aware that it is likely to be large. How large? That’s part of the uncertainty that employers face if they hire additional labor…

Then there is Medicaid, the medical program for those with lower incomes. In the past, states paid about half of the cost, and they are responsible for 20% of the additional cost imposed by the program’s expansion. But almost all the states must balance their budgets, and the new Medicaid spending mandated by ObamaCare comes at a time when states face large deficits and even larger unfunded liabilities for pensions. All this only adds to uncertainty about taxes and spending.

Meltzer concludes that the Obama administration is making the same mistake as FDR: “President Roosevelt slowed recovery in 1938-40 until the war by creating uncertainty about his objectives. It was harmful then, and it’s harmful now.”

For more on the harm caused by government-created uncertainty, read my colleague Tad DeHaven’s recent posts.

Son of the Stimulus

Like the sequel to a horror film, the politicians in Washington just passed another stimulus proposal. Only this time, they’re calling it a “jobs bill” in hopes that a different name will yield a better result.

But if past performance is any indicator of future results, this is bad news for taxpayers. By every possible measure, the first stimulus was a flop. But don’t take my word for it. Instead, look at what the White House said would happen.

The Administration early last year said that doing nothing would mean an unemployment rate of nine percent. Spending $787 billion, they said, was necessary to keep the unemployment rate at eight percent instead.

So what happened? As millions of Americans can painfully attest, the jobless rate actually climbed to 10 percent, a full percentage point higher than Obama claimed it would be if no bill was passed.

The President and his people also are arguing that the so-called stimulus is responsible for two million jobs. Yet according to the Department of Labor, total employment has dropped significantly – by more than three million – since the so-called stimulus was adopted. The White House wants us to believe this sow’s ear is really a silk purse by claiming that the economy actually would have lost more than five million jobs without all the new pork-barrel spending. This is the infamous “jobs saved or created” number. The advantage of this approach is that there are no objective benchmarks. Unemployment could climb to 15 percent, but Obama’s people can always say there would be two million fewer jobs without all the added government spending.

To be fair, this does not mean that Obama’s supposed stimulus caused unemployment to jump to 10 percent. In all likelihood, a big jump in unemployment was probably going to occur regardless of whether politicians squandered another $787 billion. The White House was foolish to make specific predictions that now can be used to discredit the stimulus, but it’s also true that Obama inherited a mess – and that mess seems to be worse than most people thought.

Moreover, it takes time for an Administration to implement changes and impact the economy’s performance. Reagan took office in early 1981 during an economic crisis, for instance, and it took about two years for his policies to rejuvenate the economy. It certainly seems fair to also give Obama time to get the economy moving again.

That being said, there is little reason to expect good results for Obama in the future. Reagan reversed the big-government policies of his predecessor. Obama, by contrast, is continuing Bush’s big-government approach. Heck, the only real difference in their economic policies is that Bush was a borrow-and-spender and Obama is a borrow-and-tax-and-spender.

This raises an interesting question: Since last year’s stimulus was a flop, isn’t the Administration making a big mistake by doing the same thing all over again?

The President’s people actually are being very clever. Recessions don’t last forever. Indeed, the average downturn lasts only about one year. And since the recession began back in late 2007, it’s quite likely that the economic recovery already has begun (the National Bureau of Economic Research is the organization that eventually will announce when the recession officially ended).

So let’s consider the political incentives for the Administration. Last year’s stimulus is seen as a flop. So as the economy recovers this year, it will be difficult for Obama to claim that this was because of a pork-filled spending bill adopted early last year. But with the passing of a supposed jobs bill, that puts them in a position to take credit for a recovery that was already happening anyway.

That may be smart politics, but it’s not good economics. The issue has never been whether the economy would climb out of recession. The real challenge is whether the economy will enjoy good growth once the recovery begins. Unfortunately, the Obama Administration policies of bigger government – combined with the Bush Administration policies of bigger government – will permanently lower the baseline growth of the United States.

If America becomes a big-government welfare state like France, then it’s quite likely that we will suffer from French-style stagnation and lower living standards.

Wednesday Links

Topics:

When Stimulus Is No Stimulus

The Obama administration has been touting its wasteful “stimulus” package as the answer to the recession.  Now that Uncle Sam has started his spending binge, John Cogan, John Taylor, and Volker Wieland assess the result.  Their conclusion:  for all of the money spent, the effort wasn’t much of a stimulus.

They write in the Wall Street Journal:

Direct evidence of an impact by government spending can be found in 1.8 of the 5.4 percentage-point improvement from the first to second quarter of this year. However, more than half of this contribution was due to defense spending that was not part of the stimulus package. Of the entire $787 billion stimulus package, only $4.5 billion went to federal purchases and $17.7 billion to state and local purchases in the second quarter. The growth improvement in the second quarter must have been largely due to factors other than the stimulus package.

Incoming data will reveal more in coming months, but the data available so far tell us that the government transfers and rebates have not stimulated consumption at all, and that the resilience of the private sector following the fall 2008 panic not the fiscal stimulus program deserves the lion’s share of the credit for the impressive growth improvement from the first to the second quarter. As the economic recovery takes hold, it is important to continue assessing the role played by the stimulus package and other factors. These assessments can be a valuable guide to future policy makers in designing effective policy responses to economic downturns.

If policymakers really want to stimulate the economy, they will stop prodigiously wasting money, unfairly redistributing people’s earnings, making the tax system ever more complex, and imposing job-killing regulations.  In other words, politicians will stop being politicians.

Who’s Running the American Economy Now?

Who’s the top dog in American business these days? Washington, says the Washington Post:

That’s one of the main themes of this week’s Capital Connection conference put on by the Mid-Atlantic Venture Association… . This time, policy wonks and government insiders will also be there.

Reed E. Hundt, former Federal Communications Commission chairman, and Tommy G. Thompson, former Health and Human Services secretary, will be speaking, as will VentureBeat blog author Matt Marshall and GigaOm author Om Malik, two well-known technology bloggers. Washington hasn’t been a frequent stop for them in the past.

It’s just one more sign of the region’s growing clout in the business and technology world. This is where stimulus dollars are doled out, where the economic recovery is taking shape, and where regulations — many of which directly affect businesses — are being crafted and rewritten. Of course, lawyers and lobbyists are getting a great deal of business helping folks find ways to tap into stimulus money… .

Companies familiar with the Beltway culture are well-positioned to benefit from the government’s increased role in nearly every sector… .

The conference, which is open to the public for the first time, demonstrates the growing nexus between the business community and the government, said Julia Spicer, MAVA’s executive director.

“The spread between the two worlds has tightened a bit,” she said. “The economy is the real focal point” of the conference, “and the government has a definite role in that.”