What went wrong with stimulusHere is what Paul Krugman said in a NY Times op-ed article on March 8, 2009, almost a year and a half ago!
The original stimulus package should've been bigger. Rep. David Obey, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, says the Treasury Department originally asked for $1.4 trillion. Sen. Kent Conrad, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, wanted $1.2 trillion. What we got was a shade under $800 billion, and something more like $700 billion when you took out the AMT patch that was jammed into the package. So we knew it was too small then, and the recession it was designed to fight turned out to be larger than we'd predicted. In the end, we took a soapbox racer to a go-kart track and then realized we were competing against actual cars.
This was a mistake, of course. But the mistake may not just have been the size of the stimulus package. I wonder if it wasn't fed by a belief that there'd be other chances. If all we needed was the $700 billion package, then great. But if unemployment remained high and the recovery had trouble taking hold, surely there would be the votes for further stimulus and relief spending. No one in the political system could possibly look at 10 percent unemployment and walk away from it, right?
Wrong. Ten percent unemployment and a terrible recession ended up discrediting the people trying to do more for the economy, as their previous intervention was deemed a failure. That, in turn, empowered the people attempting to do less for the economy. So rather than a modestly sized stimulus leaving the door open for more stimulus if needed, its modest size was used to discredit the idea of more stimulus when it became needed.
President Obama’s plan to stimulate the economy was “massive,” “giant,” “enormous.” So the American people were told, especially by TV news, during the run-up to the stimulus vote. Watching the news, you might have thought that the only question was whether the plan was too big, too ambitious.Krugman was pointing out that the stimulus was too small even though everybody was estimating a lower unemployment rate than what actually occurred. And Krugman understood the politics that made this low-ball stimulus especially dangerous:
Yet many economists, myself included, actually argued that the plan was too small and too cautious. The latest data confirm those worries — and suggest that the Obama administration’s economic policies are already falling behind the curve.
To see how bad the numbers are, consider this: The administration’s budget proposals, released less than two weeks ago, assumed an average unemployment rate of 8.1 percent for the whole of this year. In reality, unemployment hit that level in February — and it’s rising fast.
Employment has already fallen more in this recession than in the 1981-82 slump, considered the worst since the Great Depression. As a result, Mr. Obama’s promise that his plan will create or save 3.5 million jobs by the end of 2010 looks underwhelming, to say the least. It’s a credible promise — his economists used solidly mainstream estimates of the impacts of tax and spending policies. But 3.5 million jobs almost two years from now isn’t enough in the face of an economy that has already lost 4.4 million jobs, and is losing 600,000 more each month.
So here’s the picture that scares me: It’s September 2009, the unemployment rate has passed 9 percent, and despite the early round of stimulus spending it’s still headed up. Mr. Obama finally concedes that a bigger stimulus is needed.Yep... Krugman nailed it a year and a half ago. Obama tried to finesse the politics, he tried to "accomodate" the Republicans with a smaller stimulus and one that included useless tax cuts and threw in a non-stimulative "AMT patch". This is the same kind of "compromise" that yields political turf to the Republicans before the fight has begun that Obama has done over-and-over again. Obama is a disaster because he isn't the patriot and statesman needed in a crisis. He is a "negotiator" who isn't clever enough to know what ammunition he has nor when to properly use it. Tragic.
But he can’t get his new plan through Congress because approval for his economic policies has plummeted, partly because his policies are seen to have failed, partly because job-creation policies are conflated in the public mind with deeply unpopular bank bailouts. And as a result, the recession rages on, unchecked.
O.K., that’s a warning, not a prediction. But economic policy is falling behind the curve, and there’s a real, growing danger that it will never catch up.