Wednesday, January 28, 2009


I keep thinking I must be misreading many of the critiques of the stimulus plan -- the critics can't possibly be making the easily refutable arguments they're making, can they? Surely there's a catch, or a nuance I'm missing.

Here was the San Francisco Chronicle yesterday (hat tip Tom Hilton):

Economic stimulus or just more pork?

Is $200 million to rehabilitate the National Mall a crucial way to stimulate the U.S. economy? How about $276 million to fix the computer systems at the State Department? And what about $650 million to repair dilapidated Forest Service facilities? ...

I expected the haters and skeptics to complain about outlays that are only indirectly stimulative -- but on what planet is rehabilitating federal facilities or upgrading computer systems not directly stimulative? Are these tasks somehow not going to be performed by human beings, doing what I believe are technically referred to as "jobs"? Have "landscaper" and "IT guy" ceased to be employment categories while I was asleep?

The editorial page of The Wall Street Journal has a similar list today:

... The 647-page, $825 billion House legislation is being sold as an economic "stimulus" ...

We've looked it over, and even we can't quite believe it. There's $1 billion for Amtrak, the federal railroad that hasn't turned a profit in 40 years; $2 billion for child-care subsidies; $50 million for that great engine of job creation, the National Endowment for the Arts....

... Here's another lu-lu: Congress wants to spend $600 million more for the federal government to buy new cars. Uncle Sam already spends $3 billion a year on its fleet of 600,000 vehicles. Congress also wants to spend $7 billion for modernizing federal buildings and facilities. The Smithsonian is targeted to receive $150 million; we love the Smithsonian, too, but this is a job creator? ...

Amtrak? No jobs there, right? Mysterious supernatural beings actually run the trains. It's a Polar Express kind of thing -- right?

And cars -- gee, buying a whole bunch of new (and, we hope, more fuel-efficient) cars wouldn't put anyone to work, would it? Oh, maybe in some city where they actually make cars. But really, how much help do those folks need?

And child care -- nobody needs child care in order to continue holding a job, right? And child-care facilities don't actually employ people, do they?

And arts funding -- arts funding! People don't actually pay to go to plays or museums, do they? People don't actually buy paintings, right? I mean, can you imagine if FDR had tried something like this in the 1930s? Subsidizing people who paint and write? Isn't that just inconceivable? Why, it would have destroyed capitalism!

Of course, the Journal editorial goes on to complain about spending that expressly is for construction, gasping at the realization that "Some $6 billion of this will subsidize university building projects." Needless to say, no outlay will satisfy the Journal editorialists unless it falls into one of three categories: (1) tax cuts, (2) tax cuts, or (3) tax cuts.


UPDATE: Agreement problem in header now fixed.

No comments: