Jay Ambrose: President Barack Obama's claim that his disastrous joke of a stimulus bill helped stave off a second Great Depression reminds you of another joke, the one about the guy dancing wildly on a street corner with the purpose, he says, of scaring away elephants. But, someone points out, there are no elephants anywhere around. "See," says our dancing trickster, " it works, doesn't it?"
President Barack Obama's claim that his disastrous joke of a stimulus bill helped stave off a second Great Depression reminds you of another joke, the one about the guy dancing wildly on a street corner with the purpose, he says, of scaring away elephants.
But, someone points out, there are no elephants anywhere around.
"See," says our dancing trickster, " it works, doesn't it?"
That's about the only evidence for Obama's claim, you know. We do not have a Great Depression on our hands and so the stimulus bill sent it scurrying. He would therefore like everyone to quit criticizing a measure that cost as much as the war in Iraq, did precious little to justify its existence, could have been recast to do something important and is helping to shove us into an economic crisis that could make us wish for that second depression instead.
The facts are that unemployment went from something under 8 percent to over 10 percent after the bill's passage, and that the net addition in the number unemployed has been 3.3 million. In guessing how many jobs were meanwhile funded by the bill, the administration has treated us to alterations in nomenclature, miscalculation and recalculation in a public relations adventure fraught with malarkey. For the sake of argument, though, let's go along with one White House estimate of 1.5 million.
What that figure conveys is approximately nothing. It leaves out the economic reality that when you spend money on something over here, it is not available to be spent over there. The government paid for these jobs by borrowing money from the private economy. Left accessible to businesses, that money might have been spent for far more jobs than produced by politicians trying to impress you with their razzmatazz.
We do seem to be recovering from the recession right now (unemployment is down to 9.7 percent). That's what happens with recessions. You get past them, at least if the government refrains from too much wrongheaded intrusion. The bailouts, though poorly managed, may have prevented some ugly spills affecting more than just the bonus-prone few, and the Federal Reserve may have played a more positive than negative role.
But the stimulus? Give me a break.
It has not and will not stimulate much of anything, in part because it is more ideological than wise; the left cannot imagine government spending that does not make the world better or green projects that do not work. The bigger reason is that the bill afforded politicians a chance for what they love best: wasteful, foolish pork that furthers their careers even if there is that other problem, namely hurt to the nation. We therefore got stimulus-bill investments that may pay off in election results for some Democrats this November, but promise virtually no detectable economic return
There was a stimulus approach that could have worked -- an array of tax cuts for expanding, revenue-producing businesses with little if any of the spending bluster -- but that sounds oh-so conservative, and what we consequently have in front of us is a debt threat of a kind that is not only disturbing to tea party enthusiasts, but to a wide array of some of the most respected economic thinkers in the country, think-tank professionals and people who served in top government jobs during the administrations of Democrats and Republicans going back to Jimmy Carter in the 1970s.
This threat is mainly driven by the growing, unfunded liabilities of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, but is hardly diminished by this extravagant, poorly considered, rush-job stimulus bill now estimated to have a total, end-of-the-road price tag of $862 billion. It's a major contributor to the possibility of a calamity almost bound to happen if this administration keeps putting on a happy face about past mistakes instead of figuring out how to do things right in the future.
Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado. He can be reached at SpeaktoJay@aol.com.