Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Brit Hume: Why the Barack Obama Stimulus Isn't Working (Video)

Hume comments on the failure of the Barack Obama stimulus, and why it is failing. Dead on commentary.

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  1. Obama claimed that we were headed for catastrophe if the stimulus wasn't passed. So Congress bent us over and rammed it through. Catastrophe averted? Obama is putting people out of work faster than the stimulus is getting spent. Here we are months later and only 5% of the stimulus has been spent. Where is the money? Where is the recovery it was supposed to buy?


    The stimulus plan in of itself has halted the dramatic plunge in business and consumer confidence with the very likely threat of an economic depression earlier in the year, and businesses and consumers taking a less weary and more upbeat attitude to the future. Maybe more than anything else this will be the most significant impact of the stimulus package in the long-run enabling a spectacular recovery from the real possibility of depression before its passage. Businesses and consumers have become more and more confident that spending from the stimulus in the upcoming months will provide a solid environment for economic activity thus encouraging investment, reducing the pace of job losses and encouraging consumer spending. In other words, the stimulus package has avoided “a cycle of economic downturn to depression” and is now about to engender “a cycle of economic upturn to recovery”.

    The stimulus package cash handouts and other social initiatives have played no minor part in lessening the burdens on individuals of the economic downturn and the consequent increase in the number of people unemployed thus palliating the effects with regards to mortgage, health coverage and consumer spending.

    The stimulus package has halted the lost of jobs in the areas of education and other state level services and enabled States to avoid budget bankruptcy (caused by the fall in revenues due to the economic downturn) with the result of avoiding indirect job losses in the private sector as well.

    The stimulus package is bound to lead the way for new jobs creation to be followed suit by direct private sector investments with the consequence of increasing spending in the economy and accelerating economic recovery. It should be noted that jobs created by the stimulus will have a multiplier effect in the creation of jobs by private enterprises.

    Perhaps more fundamental for long-term economic recovery, given the areas of investment of the stimulus package (infrastructure, energy and green jobs, education. etc.), it is the type of government investment required for renewing long-term economic growth. As was the case with FDR's New Deal in the 1930s and Eisenhower building of interstate highways and investment in the sciences in the 1950s, the stimulus package is bound to restructure the foundation of the US economy within which private enterprise will thrive.

    The fundamental element in the criticisms levied against the stimulus package that it will increase the US deficit is the total disregard by most critics of what would have happened without the stimulus with respect to avoiding the real threat of a depression, raising business and consumer confidence and restructuring the economy. Thus providing a good foundation for real growth in the long-run (boostered by the Stimulus and led by private enterprise) with economic growth by itself and healthcare reform allowing for deficit reduction in the long-run.

    While the Stimulus Package has often come under this one-sided criticism of increasing the US deficit, such an argument can only be credible to the extent that it elicits how the results mentioned above which have been obtained (and are to be obtained) by the Stimulus Package could have been attained otherwise. Most critics of the stimulus package seem to think that this economy which was at the very brink of collapse simply avoided a depression by some miracle and that by the same token recovery is bound to occur by magic. To the extent that their arguments fail to answer these fundamental facts about avoiding a depression and beginning a recovery, to that extent, such arguments can hardly be considered credible.

  3. Actually, the initial impact of the stimulus for private enterprise and consumer confidence has been “anticipatory” in that it arrested a situation where the trend of business and consumer confidence was heading the economy to a depression. That is why the statistics point to the fact that business and consumer confidence stop plunging after the stimulus plan was passed and the stock market has been “going north” since then. It is the anticipation of the impact of the stimulus plan that has stabilized business and consumer confidence, heading off the real prospect of a depression. In other words, the stimulus package first impact was to act as the brakes for an economy that was heading to a depression disaster. See link above for the effect of the stimulus plan on the stock market immediately after its passage in mid-February 2009: the NASDAQ, Dow Jones and S & P 500 have made a dramatic U-turn upward since March 2009.

    The reason for the high job losses is very simple. Those jobs were going to be lost anyway as business and consumer confidence entered a vicious cycle to depression following the failure of the financial system - these job losses arose out of lack of confidence in the financial system. Actually, the stimulus role at the onset more than any immediate spending in the economy itself has been to provide assurance to consumers and businesses that government will spend in the economy thereby upholding consumer and business confidence and avoiding the real prospect of a depression. So the stimulus first role has been "anticipatory" in forestalling a depression.

    Believe it or not, it is not out of the question that without the stimulus plan we might have been talking now about the loss of not 1.6 million jobs but 5 or 6 million jobs at the trend at which consumer and business confidence went on falling before its passage. See link on the rise of consumer confidence since the stimulus plan was passed in mid-February 2009.

    Actually, the word "stimulus" here can be misleading in that it underemphasizes the effect of the stimulus in arresting a grave and downward spiral of the economy and rather draw focus mainly on creation of jobs which is the second and yet to fully come dimension of its impact.

  4. Let's imagine that the stimulus plan was to be suspended now. What will happen is that the anticipation consumers and business had about its boosting effect on the economy will die out, and this of itself will create uncertainty and may well lead to a new downward spiral. The Stimulus has a double effect with respect to recovery and job creation. Perhaps the lesser acknowledged effect is the confidence created in the economy for private enterprise and consumer consumption. In fact, this indirect effect will be the strongest push for economic recovery and job creation. Then there is the direct effect of the Stimulus Package spending and its multiplier effect given the areas of expenditure (education, infrastructure, green jobs, etc.)

    While critics are pointing to the fact that unemployment is already at 9.4 percent compared to the prediction of 8.8 percent for 2010 made by the Administration, many forget that Economics like Meteorology or Earthquake Prediction for that matter is "no Physics or Maths". What ultimately matters is the bigger picture and trends. Going by the job loss figures for March, April and May (652000, 504000 and 345000 respectively) the argument made by the administration definitely holds. In fact, the Fed, the Treasury as well as other institutions involved in the prediction of economic data tend to revise their figures quite often. What matters is the trend and bigger picture.

    The Stimulus is rather like a project but in this instance a massive and complex national project. A project can be broken down in two broad categories: design and execution. At the design stage (the first few months of the Stimulus), everything is being organised and put in place administratively with relatively little being carried out. The upcoming months will be the period when the massive spending and investments will be executed at an exponential rate. In fact, 1 billion dollar is already being allocated each day for Stimulus projects.

    In layman’s terms, the Stimulus is needed for the simple reason that with the failure of the financial system, businesses and consumers were less willing (uncertainty) and less able (banks failures and failure to provide credit) to produce and spend in the economy implying that companies sold less goods and services than usual and so the companies had to lay out workers who in turn bought less and so the cycle goes (and this might just as well have led to a depression).

  5. What the stimulus is meant to do, and is doing, is to incite and give businesses and consumers the confidence to keep on producing and spending respectively for the upcoming spending in the economy it is to generate exponentially. Initially by giving tax breaks, benefits, spending to maintain teaching and social services jobs and then spending on stimulus projects contracts given to companies which are then encouraged not to lay off workers. All these with the consequent multiplier effect in the economy.

    Companies and consumers effectively bought to this idea once the Stimulus bill was enacted and kept on producing and consuming respectively in anticipation that upcoming Stimulus spending will maintain a stable economic environment from which recovery is possible. Hence the reason why the stock market and consumer and business confidence started rising. This effort was accompanied by the bank bailout and efforts to provide credit to consumers and companies.

    It is effectively because the Stimulus Package is real, a commitment of 789 billion dollars by the US government for real economic projects, that consumers and businesses bought to the scheme and started acting in a positive manner in anticipation of its positive impact in the upcoming months (the Stimulus Package direct impact should enter in full force by the fourth quarter). In fact, many economists have even argued that the amount provided for the Stimulus should have been much more higher.

    As a final note, I’ll argue that irrespective of party creed, it will seem to me that the criticism levied against the Stimulus is much more of a “political vogue” (and has nothing to do with “realistic” economics) naïvely taken up by the media which tend to operate on the basis of “two sides to any story” (not a criticism though). The milestone which any such critical arguments has to overcome is to answer the question: how could a depression be avoided and a recovery started following the failure of the financial system?
    Aluceo, NY

  6. The Stimulus has little to do with improving the economy. It's simply a political power grab designed to increase the Democratic voting block. In addition, it's a 30 Year Liberal wishlist of social programs designed to increase America's reliance on the Federal Government: Socialism!