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.
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.