Friday, February 06, 2009

Columnist corrects rural senators: All spending is stimulus. But not all spending is good.

Amid the increasingly partisan potshots in the debate over the economic stimulus, we recommend that journalists read this morning's column by Steven Pearlstein, The Washington Post's Pulitzer Prize-winning business and economics columnist. He debunks some of the simplistic arguments being made about it. Some of his more pointed remarks are are aimed at Republican senators from rural states, but he also accepts some Republican arguments.

His first target is Mike Johnanns, former governor of Nebraska and most recently secretary of agriculture, who said in his first floor speech, "This is not a stimulus plan, it's a spending plan [that] won't create the promised jobs. It won't activate our economy." Pearlstein says the address was "full of budget-balancing orthodoxy that would have made Herbert Hoover proud. ... Where does the senator think the $800 billion will go? Down a rabbit hole? Even if the entire sum were to be stolen by federal employees and spent entirely on fast cars, fancy homes, gambling junkets and fancy clothes, it would still be an $800 billion increase in the demand for goods and services -- a pretty good working definition for economic stimulus. The only question is whether spending it on other things would create more long-term value, which it almost certainly would."

Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn wrote in The Wall Street Journal Wednesday that one in five of the 3 million jobs that the stimulus might create or save will be government jobs. "As if there is something inherently inferior or unsatisfactory about that," Pearlstein writes. "Note to Coburn's political director: One in five workers in Oklahoma is employed by government. ... What's striking is that supposedly intelligent people are horrified at the thought that, during a deep recession, government might try to help the economy by buying up-to-date equipment for the people who protect us from epidemics and infectious diseases, by hiring people to repair environmental damage on federal lands and by contracting with private companies to make federal buildings more energy-efficient."

(Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer writes in the Post that the bill includes "hundreds of billions that have nothing to do with stimulus, that Congress's own budget office says won't be spent until 2011 and beyond, and that are little more than the back-scratching, special-interest, lobby-driven parochialism that Obama came to Washington to abolish. He said." Example: "$150 million for livestock (and honeybee and farm-raised fish) insurance.")

Pearlstein agrees with Republican criticism that some parts of the stimulus would raise budgets for government agencies and become recurring. Here's his bottom line: "Spending is stimulus, no matter what it's for and who does it. The best spending is that which creates jobs and economic activity now, has big payoffs later and disappears from future budgets." But he says, perhaps tongue in cheek, that it might be a good long-term investment to hire "personal economic trainers" for senators and House members. (Read more) Pearlstein is co-moderator, with former Post Executive Editor Ben Bradlee, of a new Web site, On Leadership, which aims to get "experts and readers with varying backgrounds and perspectives to address the same topics at the same time and at the same place."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I guess I missed the part where it was explained why we need 600,000 new public sector workers whose salaries and benefits will be borne by struggling taxpayers.