How grateful I was to discover Steven Pearlstein bringing some (sarcastic) clarity to this issue:
"This is not a stimulus plan, it's a spending plan," Nebraska's freshman senator, Mike Johanns (R), said Wednesday in a maiden floor speech full of budget-balancing orthodoxy that would have made Herbert Hoover proud. The stimulus bill, he declared, "won't create the promised jobs. It won't activate our economy."
Johanns was too busy yesterday to explain this radical departure from standard theory and practice. 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.
Right. The underlying point here is that "wasteful spending" is often code for "spending that immediately benefits someone else," or "spending that offends my ideology in some way." But c'mon: spending is spending. And it's always stimulative somehow.
Pearlstein goes on:
Meanwhile, Nebraska's other senator, Ben Nelson (D), was heading up a centrist group that was determined to cut $100 billion from the stimulus bill. Among his targets: $1.1 billion for health-care research into what is cost-effective and what is not. An aide explained that, in the senator's opinion, there is "some spending that was more stimulative than other kinds of spending."
Oh really? I'm sure they'd love to have a presentation on that at the next meeting of the American Economic Association. Maybe the senator could use that opportunity to explain why a dollar spent by the government, or government contractor, to hire doctors, statisticians and software programmers is less stimulative than a dollar spent on hiring civil engineers and bulldozer operators and guys waving orange flags to build highways, which is what the senator says he prefers.
Yes. These sorts of comparisons seem absurd to me.
And, in that vein, why are we supposed to assume that government jobs aren't really jobs? Par exemple:
Henninger weighed in with his own list of horror stories from the stimulus bill, including $325 million for trail repair and remediation of abandoned mines on federal lands, $6 billion to reduce the carbon footprint of federal buildings and -- get this! -- $462 million to equip, construct and repair labs at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"What is most striking is how much 'stimulus' money is being spent on the government's own infrastructure," wrote Henninger. "This bill isn't economic stimulus. It's self-stimulus."
Actually, 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.
Anyway, now it appears we are on our way to a deal... we'll see what happens.