This package is unstimulated

By Phil Plait | February 6, 2009 10:42 am

Right now — literally, today — Congress is trying to figure out what to do with a nearly trillion-dollar economic stimulus package President Obama has submitted. There seems to be a lot of unclear calls to action online due to some severe cuts in the package, so I want to try to make this more clear.

First– the Republicans are saying this is a spending bill, not a stimulus package. That’s basically yet another conservative load of baloney: the spending is going toward stimulating the economy. The bill has short-term and long-term goals in it, so that we can get things rolling quickly, yet be able to sustain the events once the initial push is over. A stimulus needs inertia, or else it grinds to a halt.

Senate Democrats are working with moderate Republicans to compromise (from what I have read and seen about this current package, the conservative Republicans don’t appear willing to compromise, only to cut) — though the bill passed the House with not a single Republican voting for it; I wonder if Obama understands what that means to future packages he proposes.

One compromise that was reported by the AP — Talking Points Memo has the specifics — is an $88 billion dollar cut to the original package. These are substantial slashes to the budget, including $750M from NASA (a 50% reduction), $427M from NOAA (a 34% cut), $100M from the Department of Energy office of science (a 100% cut), and $1.4B from NSF, again, a 100% reduction. In other words, DOE science and the NSF are being zeroed out of this bill.

I want to be clear: these are not actually cuts to the budgets of these groups! The original package calls for increased spending on them, so what these cuts mean is that the agencies won’t get as much of an increase, or, in the case of the DOE OS and NSF, any increase at all.

Worst case scenario is that these programs get cut, and nothing really has changed; they still get the same money they did before this package was proposed. The problem is that with the economy the way it is, we do need to do something to make sure our country continues running. The money that goes to NASA, for example, is to the Exploration directorate, which includes going to the Moon and living in space. The money spent by Congress on these programs is invested, not wasted. And studies show that money spent on NASA is returned multiplied several times. In other words, we make money on NASA.

And the National Science Foundation sponsors a huge amount of basic scientific research across the board, from students up to full-time researchers. Investing that money is directly investing in the future of the United States. I wonder about the cognitive dissonance necessary to rail against foreign countries outpacing us, yet trying to cut science funding.

Bottom line: increased spending in these programs is a good thing. It helps people keep their jobs, it produces things we need, and in the long run makes money for the country. I’m calling my senators right now. How about you?

CATEGORIZED UNDER: NASA, Piece of mind, Politics, Science

Comments (117)

  1. davidlpf

    I am doing nothing but I am in Canada not the States. But I know Replubican answer tax cuts.

  2. Yeah, and now this news about NASA wasting billions of dollars of tax-payers money! Let’s see how Obama deals with this! I’m outraged!

    http://www.theonion.com/content/node/41904

  3. Russ

    Increasing the size of government is no way to stimulate the economy, thats why the protest. Also, if it truly is such an emergency for the short term and it needs to get passed, like, yesterday, make a bill with short term spending. *Then* make a bill with longer term spending.

    Increasing science funding is all well and good, but both private industry and the government are in a financial crunch. Its not the time to make massive increases in R&D spending.

    Increasing spending in these areas allows government employees to keep their jobs, secondarily, their spending may allow others to keep their jobs, but creation of wealth by government entities is very inefficient. Failing government entities aren’t permitted to go out of business and be replaced by a more agile competitor, they just get more money.

    On one hand, yes, the democrats were voted in, so they get more power to drive the county. If their plan for stimulating the economy is to grow the government at the expense of private industry and to enact protectionist trade policies, then that is what they will do. People still need to stand up and call it out though.

  4. Quiet Desperation

    I support science and tech spending in general, but trying to turn this into a partisan issue is pointless. BOTH major parties have become completely ossified by their respective ideologies and have both have their fingerprints all over this mess.

    The whole stimulus package, as it is written, is outdated Keynesianism that flies in the face of over a half a century of macroeconomic research. In many university level finance courses, the idea of government stimulus is presented as an example of an economic fallacy. It’s astronomical debt being foisted on your children and their children without even a hint of fiscal reforms.

    But don’t take my word for it. Refer to Greg Mankiw of Harvard and John Taylor at Stanford for why this stimulus package is a steaming load. Need a consensus? Ask the 300 economists who signed the full page New York Times ad against the stimulus package as it is currently formulated.

    Here’s an article by someone who originally supported the idea:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/01/28/AR2009012802938.html

    But I know Replubican answer tax cuts.

    So do many world class economists and financial experts, and they have a far better track record than trying to government spend our way to prosperity. Even the Democrats support some tax cuts, so I’m not sure what your point is beyond mindless partisan ideology.

    This is a blog that openly supports the educated elites in their fields. I posted links and names of experts. What are your macroeconomic credentials?

  5. If their plan for stimulating the economy is to grow the government at the expense of private industry and to enact protectionist trade policies, then that is what they will do.

    As opposed to the republicans, who shrank the government during 8 years at the helm? Uh-huh.

    That being said, if Mr. Obama truly wants to create jobs that help working people right here, right now, why not directly fund their employment? 900 billion dollars would pay for a lot of construction workers to fix our roads, a lot of engineers to design better bridges, a lot of teachers to instruct our kids, etc.

    WPA, rev 2. Oh wait, that’s socialism. Commie pinkos.

  6. kuhnigget, there really isn’t enough money in the package for infrastructure, which is too bad. We’ve ignored it for too long, even as bridges collapse. Money spent on that would definitely be an investment. The problem is we need several trillion dollars to do it.

    Given that we’re approaching a sunspot max in a few years, I’d like to see a coordinated effort to gird our power grid. We need more lines to carry current, to bury them for protection against storms, and so on.

  7. Ian

    I want to be clear: these are not actually cuts to the budgets of these groups! The original package calls for increased spending on them, so what these cuts mean is that the agencies won’t get as much of an increase, or, in the case of the DOE OS and NSF, any increase at all.

    Phil, thanks for clarifying that. When I saw the email from ScienceDebate2008 this morning (misleadingly titled “NSF to be zeroed out”), I misunderstood that and totally panicked.

  8. Wayne

    I’m not in love with the Republican party, but I think you misrepresent them when you call their perspective baloney. Government spending is government spending, by your argument the entire federal budget is economic stimulus (and I suppose in some sense it is), but their point is that that’s not what the economy needs right now. I’m not saying that they or I or anyone has the correct answer, but you can’t say it’s not government spending just because the INTENT is economic stimulus.

  9. Steve A

    But this money is not just to “grow the government.” That’s the fallacy that’s being presented. Let’s look at the NASA spending, for instance. If its like the House bill, some of that money will get used to repair the Johnson Space Center that was hit y the hurricanes last year. Also some will probably also be spent on Earth Sciences, like on satellites. Even if it all goes to the Exploration Directorate (NASA has a lot more discretion on how to spend the money in the Senate version than in the House version which only adds $600 m), much of it will go to private industry and research institutes which often times hire to fill the need. The government issue is a canard.

    But this is not just a Republican issue, there are some Democrats who also want to remove the NASA funding, for similar reasons. However, in their talking points, Republicans have brought the NASA funding up twice in the same memo. They are gunning for it.

    I’m writing to whitehouse.gov as well as my senator about this.

  10. The BA mentioned me by name!!! Swoooooooooooon!

    Ahem, but…

    “there really isn’t enough money in the package for infrastructure…”

    Yes, my point exactly. Because it’s not aimed at the people who build things, rather the corporations and industries that fund politics in this country. I want investment, not cronyism.

  11. “I wonder about the cognitive dissonance necessary to rail against foreign countries outpacing us, yet trying to cut science funding.”

    There may very well be no cognitive dissonance. They may not see that funding science-based agencies is connected to being competitively positioned among other countries.

  12. Cheyenne

    I agree that a stimulus package has to be passed, and soon, but this one is a nightmare of pork and special interest peddling at this point. There are provisions in there that make no sense. “Buy American” is going to set off a trade war, less than 7% of the money is going to be spent in 2009 (I’ll readily admit this is probably off a bit- maybe a lot- by the last version of the bill write up), billions are budgeted for after 2011.

    I’d personally want a bill that truly cuts out pork, is focused on the short-term in terms of job creation and spending (infrastructure is the best place to start), and is reigned in a bit from the astronomical figures that are being talked about.

    I don’t mind the Republicans trying to watch the hen house at all. Let’s let the process work itself out. I’d vote that it needs to be tweaked a bit is what I’m saying.

    By the way, polling on this now indicates a majority of Americans are opposed to the bill in its current form. Two weeks ago it was up 20% favorable. This is Obama’s most important act as Prez, I hope he can figure out what to do here.

  13. fos

    Thank goodness for conservative Republicans. We need some semblance of checks and balance on yet another corrupt democrat administration whose only change is basically another klinkton adminstration with a talking head president that can’t talk without a teleprompter.

  14. Russ

    Look, no one is arguing that all of these things are wasteful, or things we shouldn’t spend money on. The problem is that they most definitely fall under the umbrella of emergency economic stimulus. There could be 100 billion for malaria prevention in there, no one would say its a bad way to spend money, it just doesn’t belong in an emergency stimulus bill.

    Lets debate the funding for repairing the Johnson Space Center, yes! But lets get to that when we discuss the NASA budget.

  15. Foo = most inane dittohead I’ve seen in a long time.

    “with a talking head president that can’t talk without a teleprompter.”

    What about… No! Must…not…feed…trolls….!

  16. Quiet Desperation

    The problem is we need several trillion dollars to do it.

    From where? You going to raise taxes to 99%?

    even as bridges collapse

    *A* bridge collapsed, and it seems the cause was a design flaw. Don’t agree? Take it up with the NTSB bridge experts. Emotionally charged, inaccurate rhetoric, Phil. I’m very disappointed. :-(

  17. Chip

    Another load of Republican baloney that they’ve recently trotted out in this phony debate is the statement: “FDR’s jobs programs” (enacted during the Great Depression) “caused the economy to get worse.” This is right up there in zaniness with the “liberals are Nazis” ploy they tried before the election. It is based on a mini recession that took place as things were starting to improve in the late 1930’s. But that second economic dip was caused by FDR prematurely scaling back jobs programs on the urging of, (guess who,) Republicans. Then came WWII and the country was on a gigantic industrial footing. Another ploy is the “Its not stimulus, its spending” argument. Meaningless.
    Big government is not good or bad, its just big. A small government can be equally bad. Republicans ostensibly favor “small government” but what they really favor in that guise is an aristocracy of a wealthy minority. Witness how the previous administration just gave (your) money away to Wall Street with next to no regulation. Bring on the Stimulus Package. We need it and it can be fine tuned as it goes.

  18. Todd W.

    I was about to say, let the “Republicans are awesome, Democrats are teh e-ville. No! Democrats rule, Republicans drool!” posts were going to start soon. But, fos jumped the gun.

  19. David King

    Republican baloney? I beg to differ, sir.

    A stimulus bill cuts taxes, giving taxpayers more of the money they’ve earned. When they spend this money, it stimulates the economy. It’s a proven formula.

    A spending bill does not put money into the hands of taxpayers. It takes money away from them in taxes (or inflation) to fund pork barrel projects. This does not stimulate the economy.

    No hating here, Phil. I love your blog. Stick to the cool stuff. You’re way to good a mind to mess with politics.

  20. Mikel

    To Quiet Desperation…

    What do you expect of Phil? After all, he is a self-proclaimed Liberal.

  21. RL

    It’s not just Republicans who are objecting to the contents of the stimulus bill. I think senators, like Democrat Sen. Nelson, are right to insist that the stimulus bill should be geared towards stimulating the economy in the near term. Items like NASA budgets, family planning and other expeditures should not be a part of this bill. They should be part of the regular budget process and rules which, hopefully, Congress will follow instead of another continuing resolution.

    The Congressional Budget Office reported that according to its analysis, this stimulus package will actually hurt the economy more in the long run than if he were to do nothing because the increased spending (i.e. debt) will crowd out investment capital markets in the future. In addition, reports I’ve read state that much of the spending does not go into effect in the planned time frame.

    I would tell my senators to fix this bill.

    No matter what is passed, I hope Obama follows thru with his statement that bills will be posted for 5 days before he signs them. Then maybe members of congress will read the whole bill so they can explain what they voted for.

  22. I wonder if the Republican position is rooted in scientific economic theory or if it is political strategy; to oppose a plan that they are powerless to stop, on the chance that if it fails, they’ll be positioned to say they did not want it. If it does work, then fine. Nobody will put too much pressure on those who unsuccessfully opposed it. In short, they have little to lose by opposing any proposal.

  23. gss_000

    @Cheyenne

    You have a point, but it’s a little misleading figure because the bill won’t be able to start until the end of 2009. What’s more important is how fast its spent in 2010, and I think from what I’ve heard its pretty good on that account. And your polling number are a little off, too. Support has fallen, but CBS news poll:

    “Fifty-one percent of those surveyed support the stimulus package, while 39 percent do not.”

    USA Today Gallup poll:

    “52 percent favoring an economic stimulus plan and 38 percent in opposition.”

    What’s interesting is Obama still has very high approval numbers (in the 60 percentile)

    @fos
    Right…because Bush was such a good speaker, and his tax cuts obviously prevented teh economic crisis in the first place, right? Every independent study I have sen showed that Republican’s call for more tax cut would have a much lower “multiplier” for every dollar spent than direct spending on things like infrastructure. An past Republican presidents delays to infrastructure repair (thanks Regan) is why bridges are collapsing, pipes bursting, and a little snow and ice shuts down power for millions.

  24. Cheyenne

    BA – The Congressional Budget Office report states that of the infrastructure based spend “only about $136 billion of the $355 billion” will be spent by the end of 2010/beginning 2011. So they certainly are spending on infrastructure BA. They’re just doing it wrong!

    I’d like them to cut out all the garbage and up the infrastructure spend past $355 and focus on projects (therefore jobs) that could be created as soon as possible. New highways, public transportation system upgrades, power grid (like you said), etc. etc. And if they could go ahead and start this all on Chicago that would be great! (how does pork get started again?)

  25. gss_000

    @ Quiet Desperation

    True, only one bridge collapsed, but all of our bridges are in serious need of repair. In the 80s, we didn’t do the necessary upkeep that was usually done every 20 years and now we’re paying for it. A recent independent survey rated out infrastructure a D- and said just to get to wokring levels we need to spend $2 trillion (yes, trillion). Even without the bridge statement, our energy grid, rail, sewers, etc all need massive repairs.

  26. Quiet Desperation

    Another load of Republican baloney that they’ve recently trotted out in this phony debate is the statement: “FDR’s jobs programs” (enacted during the Great Depression) “caused the economy to get worse.”

    Milton Friedman and other Nobel laureates agree with this assessment. Here is a paper written by two economists from UCLA, [snark] that absolute hotbed of conservative thought:

    http://www.minneapolisfed.org/research/wp/wp597.pdf

    But, oh, because some Republicans use it, it muse be teh EEVil.

  27. QD: there are studies that show that bridges are in severe danger right now (I don’t have a link; I saw references to them on a news program) and that our power grid is in very bad trouble. The “bridges collapsing” was meant to be a phrase, not to be taken literally.

    And I am not saying we can raise enough money to do it, in fact I said that’s the problem. yet it needs to be done. It’s a very serious issue.

  28. Note that in my post I said conservative Republicans. The moderate ones are trying to actually be proactive, at least.

  29. Quiet Desperation

    gss_ooo: I agree. Infrastructure is always needing repair. That’s why you don’t rape and hobble your economy so that tax revenues flow at the required pace to maintain such things. I was disappointed with Phil’s tactic. He’s far better than that.

  30. gss_000

    @Cheyenne

    One last thing, I totally agree that there are a lot of projects that can be done right now to inject money into the system. IIRC, I heard one of your Congressman speaking on this on the Rachel Maddow show and he was spot on. But I think NASA money has its place too, especially becuase money now not only helps now with jobs but promotes more science and engineering down the line.

  31. Cheyenne

    @gss_oo- You are correct, that’s why I did the little (“I admit this is probably changed from now… “line- I was using the data from the last CBO report). I think most people would agree that we would like to get the money into the economy as fast as possible.

    I think my overall point is that a significant amount of people can find enough wrong in this bill that it’s probably worth it to re-visit the bill (even if it delays it) to make sure we aren’t making a colossal miscalculation.

  32. Richard

    Phil, you are advocating underhanded theft from hundreds of millions. And due to the way that federal borrowing works, many of them have not even been born yet. To do this in the name of a stimulus to those people would be comical if only it weren’t so tragic. Not to speak about any abstraction called an “economy”, but I personally am not helped by arbitrary spending decisions made on the advice of parasitic lobbyists by unqualified buffoons with money that they pulled from thin air… quite the opposite. Please stop making them think that it’s okay to “invest” my children’s money.

  33. Quiet Desperation

    The “bridges collapsing” was meant to be a phrase, not to be taken literally.

    I’m just bein’ skeptical, Phil. :-) Skepticism breeds honesty. Or something like that. You know me by now. I’m then anti-ideologue. Whatever actually *works* is fine by me, be it something to make Progressives smile or Libertarians cheer.

  34. Phil,

    An infrastructure bill for 286B that was lauded by both parties as the solution to our crumbling infrastructure was passed in 2005. Guess that how that went.

    As a skeptic, wouldn’t you want some actual proof as to how 820B in spending of money we don’t have will actually work? Are you not concerned that dumping nearly 1 trillion in money that doesn’t exist will cause massive inflation, that hurts the poorer people in this country?

    It’s extremely intellectually disingenuous to just write off the Republican complaints as a load of baloney. While they have no credibility as a party, the criticisms still deserve to be examined.

    I would also like to point out, that in the last 8 years, we’ve had a president going on television claiming doom and gloom if certainly hastily written bills weren’t passed immediately. That gave us TARP (written by Democrats) and the Patriot Act (voted by Democrats when they controlled the Senate).

    We need skepticism more than ever now, if we’re really going to spend this insane amount of imaginary money.

  35. JC

    To all the folks who think that Tax Cuts Are The Only Way :

    Given that taxes are now LOWER than they were during the Clinton boom years, what does THAT say about your theory about tax cuts being the best (and perhaps only) stimulus?

    Also, if tax cuts during bad times is the answer, would you support tax increases during _good_ times to shore up the federal budget?

  36. Cheyenne

    gss_ooo- I’m fairly conservative on economic matters but I totally swoon for Maddow’s show. She’s brilliant – even when I disagree with her. If NASA would prove that it would use the money for real science I think we should quadruple their budget. But I’m somebody that doesn’t mind seeing them lose the funding for manned exploration of the moon (sorry if anybody disagrees with that).

    I just hope both sides can get a compromise hammered out that will make the best use of the funds they are asking for. The stakes are just enormous right now.

  37. JC,

    It doesn’t say anything since the intellectuals who support tax cuts also don’t support increased spending or government meddling in the housing market by pushing for more lower income people to own homes.

  38. @Phil and QD:
    Here is a link that supplies some answers in terms of bridges. While the percentage of structurally deficient bridges has been declining, it still leaves 1 in 4 that ARE structurally deficient. As far as I’m concerned, that’s still one too many.

    http://www.asce.org/reportcard/2005/page.cfm?id=22

  39. Quiet Desperation

    Given that taxes are now LOWER than they were during the Clinton boom years, what does THAT say about your theory about tax cuts being the best (and perhaps only) stimulus?

    That the macroeconomic world is 1000 times more complicated than some partisan quip on a blog?

    Also, if tax cuts during bad times is the answer, would you support tax increases during _good_ times to shore up the federal budget?

    Oh, to live in such a simple world…

    On second thought, nah, I’ll stick with the gloriously complicated real one, thanks.

  40. Quiet Desperation

    Seriously, though, this bad, wide load of a stim package has moved me to officially raise the Economic Alert Level to “Holy crap!”

    And Obama and Co really need to stop with the doom and gloom, “do this or we ALL DIE!” talk.

    And, yes, I’m looking at you, too, Chu! You sounded like some religious cult member predicting the end of the world. Way to make my happiness at having an actual Nobel scientist in a presidential cabinet position so short lived. :-(

    Psychology is the X factor so many people forget about with the economy. Kids, you want to be a good economist? When you get your economics degree, minor in psychology.

  41. gss_000- Hope I’m not being a troll here. My name has the link to the latest Rasmussun poll. A lot of polls seem to be getting different levels of support. But I think the trend line is certainly clear enough here on what the public thinks of the bill – I think it’s fair to say that support is certainly weakening by noticeable margin.

    What ticks me off is that both parties seem to care more about scoring political points over this one more than anything. Which is so new in Washington I know – hee-hee.

  42. Anti Evolution Loon

    I hate to split hairs here, but you said “the conservative Republicans don’t appear willing to compromise, only to cut) ”

    When your debating a spending/stiimulus/budget of any of the above billion dollar movements, there are only two option when you are trying to compromise:

    Cut spending.
    Increase spending.

    Of course the fiscally conservative republicans want to cut, the fiscally conservative democrats and independents should all want to do the same thing.

    It’s actually frightening to me as a Libertarian that our culture is looking more and more at the government to solve our problems despite the fact that the government’s answer is always throw more money at it. I think betting on black on the roulette table in Vegas would be an investment with equal returns.

    Right now I praise anyone in the senate or house that disagrees with Nancy Pelosi’s position. Any elected official that believes that 500 million americans will lose their jobs every month they don’t pass their bills should be stripped of their voting privilege. She’s a bag of hammers, so I’d vote opposite of her in every election and probably do alright. To think if there would have been an electoral tie SHE would be the one crafting our stimulus plan. I guess we have something to be thankful for in the US during these trying times.

  43. JC

    Given that these are comments on someone else’s blog, yes, the arguments and questions have to be kept simple.

    However, I do believe it’s a valid question: when are lower taxes a stimulus, and when are they not? I don’t claim to be an economist, so please enlighten me.

    Your flippant remark “Oh, to live in such a simple world” does little to help anyone understand your point of view. If the answer during downturns is to cut taxes, but tax hikes during good times are out of the question, then our tax rates would, over time, ratchet down to zero. While some people would like that, I don’t. I like having food inspectors and working roads and bridges and some of the other perks that comes from living in a civilized society.

  44. gss_000

    @Cheyenne

    I definitely don’t agree on the manned spaceflight issue, as I think it does a lot more that doesn’t get hyped as much. Like the recent cataract test invention. But, I can see your point. You’d probably be more in line with the House version since it has most for research, although focued on Earth. Oh, yeah, I love Maddow. My politics align with hers, but her mature discourse is astounding. Plus, she draws opposing views onto her show without belittling them. If I remember, one of these days I’m making an “Infrastructure is Sexy” T-shirt because of her.

    @Quiet Desperation

    I just saw something you wrote. The Great Depression is a wonky example for economists to use on both sides because of World War II’s effect. The increased spending/extreme rationing followed by the boom makes the case for both sides of the argument.

  45. John

    gss_ooo “the bill won’t be able to start until the end of 2009″

    Is this true? How is this a “stimulus” package then? The stimulus is needed today, not 10 months from now. I don’t disagree with fixing infrastructure, finding science, etc, but the economy needs fixing today. (I saw an article where Obama was demanding it gets passed now. Does he know it won’t do any good for a long time.)
    If this package doesn’t deliver until the end of the year, it’s pretty much worthless for its intended purpose.

  46. gss_ooo,

    There is a ten year gap between when FDR took office and WWII starting. It’s not that difficult a case. Even FDR’s own team said that the New Deal policies, after 8 years, had failed to get the country going again.

  47. Brian H

    “Quiet Desperation Says:

    *A* bridge collapsed, and it seems the cause was a design flaw. Don’t agree? Take it up with the NTSB bridge experts. Emotionally charged, inaccurate rhetoric, Phil. I’m very disappointed.”

    http://www.asce.org/reportcard/2009/

    I suppose the american society of civil engineers is emotionally-charged as well?
    “More than 26%, or one in four, of the nation’s bridges are either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.”

  48. Cheyenne

    @AntiEvolution- “To think if there would have been an electoral tie SHE would be the one crafting our stimulus plan”.

    She already is. All fed spending bills have to originate in the House – then move to the Senate. She (well, really her underlings – I seriously doubt she has the ability or the desire to actually write a 1400 page bill) is the point lead on the stimulus bill. It passed by a wide enough margin in the House that the Dems are trying to get 60 votes in the Senate to head off procedural blocks from the Republicans. Drama indeed.

  49. Grisha

    Phil, I love your blog and read it, ahem, religiously. But aren’t you a bit __skeptical_ about this stimulus? Many of your readers have presented evidence that it will not work; that it is a spending bill that will likeley fail only to be followed by more “stimuli”. There is evidence that Japan lost a decade of economic growth due to policies just like this. Skepticism, I think, would mean that you would (time permitting ) deeply consider the evidence that your readers have presented. I worry about this stimulus bill. I WANT it to work, but WANTING is not critical thinking.

  50. @Cheyenne

    I have the same fear on trolling. Hmm…I hadn’t seen that poll before. just checked out Ben Silver over at fivethirtyeight.com as he has been tracking this. His analysis of polling is excellent and his modeling ability and logic is fantastic. His politics leans left, but I haven’t seen that color his views on what poll numbers say. Its a few days old, but I think the analysis is the same. Thanks for the pointer.

  51. Brian H

    The problem with knee-jerk tax cuts here is who gets them? No options seem to stimulate the economy here…

    Cut taxes for upper class/corporations, their profits plummet because noone has money that they can/want to spend on things, so profit losses eclipse money saved from cuts and the economy is not stimulated.

    Cut taxes for working class, and at this point in time it’s going to go straight to bills / a savings account and doesn’t stimulate the economy at all.

    I just fail to see the logic that says a tax cut is going to get money flowing again…

  52. justcorbly

    First, the Nelson-Norris group of senators is playing with a wad of money that comprises no more than about 10 percent of the bill’s projected expenditures. Most of that 10 percent is derived from things added by memebers of Congress. I.e., they weren’t in the bill submitted by the adminstration. It seems rather smart politics to allow the Congress to focus on parts of the bill that you don’t care about.

    Second, spending is exactly the way to stimulate thte econonmy. The expenditures outlined in the bill are intended to match, approximately, the loss of private sector spending due to the recession. Conservatives cannot document that tax cuts to the corporate rich will in any way induce private sector spending at the required levels. In all probabiity, corporate tax cuts will simply be used to mitigate that sector’s ongoing losses.

    Think in practical terms: Macy’s just fired thouands of people. Why? Because Macy’s customers aren’t buying. If Macy’s gets a tax cut, how is that going to induce customers, who can’t afforcd to shop today, to go to Macy’s tomorrow and buy something?

    Conservatives want us to believe – and some are deluded enough to really believe themselves — that decreasing government revenue by giving tax cuts to the (undeserving) corporate rich will prompt a wave of massive investment and hiring by those corporations. Maybe it might in Econ 101, but in the real world of America, most of do not trust the corporate sector and have no faith that corporate tax cuts would benefit anyone other than the corporations.

    Most Americans blame conservatives for this recession. Their grandchildren will study textbooks that include a chapter called “The Bush Recession.” Why would they give credence to anything conservatives say?

  53. QD, your “whatever actually works” needs a stated goal before it makes any sense. Those goals are always defined with strong input from your dreaded “ideology”. While we can probably all agree that the economy needs fixin’, exactly what constitutes a fixed economy is up for debate: I for one would like to see poor people benefiting, but that is by no means uncontroversial.

  54. justcorbly,

    So are you saying because Americans wrongly think Bush’s economic policies were conservative, that no one should even look at the vast amount of work behind conservative fiscal policy.

    Remember this, and tatoo it to your brain:

    Bush was not an economic conservative. Period. End of discussion. Please debate actual conservative economic theory, not liberal Republicanism.

  55. Bramblyspam

    Phil is writing as if the money spent in “stimulus” descends upon us like manna from heaven, and the eeebil republicans are merely out to thwart our desire for manna.

    The bottom line for me is that when you’re in economic trouble, you don’t get out of it by tax-and-spend or by borrow-and-spend. You get out of it by controlling your spending. This stimulus package – indeed, ANY stimulus package – is merely going to exacerbate the disaster.

    One way or another, every dollar of government spending ultimately comes out of the pockets of the taxpayers. You might do well to ask yourself whether you think we receive more stimulus money than we pay in taxes. If you do, you might well conclude that a sizeable percentage of the funds gets diverted to unintended coffers.

    Our dear bad astronomer would do well to read Bastiat’s classic essay on “what is seen and what is not seen“.

  56. @Shane P. Brady

    But, by 1936-1937, most of the economic figures were back to late 1920s levels. So in three years, Roosevelt’s New Deal got the economy back to where it was before the Depression hit, and another blitz of spending got the US out of the recession in 1937 very quickly. Check the graph I linked to. However, that’s just one view. When you ask economists, like Robert Whaples did in 1995, there wasn’t really a consensus on whether or not it did lengthen the depression. Another survey of economists found that views were split almost 50-50.

  57. Eric

    I would agree that “growing government” is probably not an effective way to stimulate the economy. But please note that the stimulus spending is not really “growing government”. The proposed money for NASA, for example, is to be spent on contracts, grants and building hardware – not employing civil servants. So Russ is not really correct when he says: “Increasing spending in these areas allows government employees to keep their jobs.” These jobs aren’t really in jeopardy anyway as long as the agency’s budget for the next fiscal year keeps up with inflation (which I think is likely for the science agencies). The money is to flow to the private sector through NASA (and the other agencies), which is presumably what Congress has in mind regarding stimulating the economy.

  58. Quiet Desperation

    QD, your “whatever actually works” needs a stated goal before it makes any sense. Those goals are always defined with strong input from your dreaded “ideology”.

    In the words of great philosopher, your facts are uncoordinated.

  59. I liked the post. I have defended to people the benefits of NASA previously. I get what BA is saying about science funding, we need that, we are severely lacking in that area currently.
    My problem is things like $75 million for FBI salaries, who know’s what for rehabbing govt’ buildings.

    I’m all for rebuilding bridges and infrastructure. I watched the new bridge over the Mississippi in St. Louis go for a grand $2 billion dollar design to I believe a crappy $900 million dollar design that’ll be obsolete the day it opens.

    $246 million for film?

    Nancy Pelosi says we’re losing 500 million jobs per month. I’ll see y’all in the unemployment line.

  60. I’m afraid you have to explain that one to me, QD.

  61. Uh, even the CBO is saying the current package is going to be harmful:
    http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/feb/04/cbo-obama-stimulus-harmful-over-long-haul/

    And Phil, Obama didn’t submit this. He asked for a stimulus and this is what the Congress came up with. AFAIK he had nothing to do with crafting it. Get your facts right.

  62. Uh, even the CBO is saying the current package is going to be harmful. Oh, do links require moderation?

    And Phil, Obama didn’t submit this. He asked for a stimulus and this is what the Congress came up with. AFAIK he had nothing to do with crafting it. Get your facts right.

  63. Stark

    Count me with Pieter here – that made no sense whatsoever QD.

  64. Stark

    MarkP – get your facts right. Obama’s transition team was working on the stimulus bill, with congress members, for a number of weeks before Obama even took office. He most certainly had a hand in it.

  65. @Mark – You’re right about the CBO’s rather dour assessment but wrong about Obama’s involvement in the bill. His legislative affairs office is heavily involved in this and has been for some time.

    cbo.gov/publications/collections/collections.cfm?collect=12

    My name and the above link to what you are talking about. But key words are that the non-partisan CBO predicts the package will “succeed in boosting growth in 2009 and 2010″. But that the long-term effects beyond 2011 are pretty gloomy. Debt service alone is hundreds of millions of dollars.

    It’s an adrenaline shot that is going to cause a nasty hangover. I’m unsure if it’s worth it, but looking at it skeptically, I’m really beginning to think “no” in its current form. I’d like about half the cc’s of the current shot and I want the good stuff (infrastructure now).

  66. *sigh*

    The deeper problem here is that economics, as a science, hasn’t reached the stage of settled consensus that’s needed to convince the public that doing something counter-intuitive (in this case, to run up massive government debt as a cure for the hangover from too much private debt) is a good thing to do. Props to Phil for posting this anyway.

    As a case in point, QD, there are plenty of respected and respectable economists who do support the principle of the stimulus (i.e. government spending on doing things, rather than tax cuts). I’m not in a position, not being an economist myself, to convince you they are right, but it’s not true either just to say that ‘Keynesianism’, unqualified, is discredited. Using government spending to grow the economy in normal times is now, I believe, pretty universally rejected (though I don’t know if Keynes ever advocated this); as a way to avoid a deflationary trap, I don’t think so. And citing lists of 300 ‘economists’ just smacks of the Oregon petition to me: as denialists are fond of pointing out, science is not a democracy.

    I think putting a few million of the stimulus to basic research in economics might not be a bad idea at all, though it’ll come too late to sort this crisis out.

  67. Gus

    For a skeptic website, there does not seem to be much skepticism going on here. I’m not that eqloquent about this stuff, but we all need to be calling our senators and telling them they are off their rocker crazy on this thing.

    First, this is all your money, your kids money, and your grandchildrens’s money we are talking about. You will have no say in how or where its spent when this bill passes today. Why are we not demanding a more detailed look at this and time to think about it, ask questions, and debate it?

    Second, does no one see a problem with the politicians demanding near a trillion dollars right now or else? Lets say for instance your car has a flat tire on a deserted road. A guy with a nice hair cut and a flashy smile stops by and says, “Hey, give me $1,000 out of your pocket, right now, and everything will be o.k.” Now as a skeptic, would you not ask what you money is going for? Maybe ask why it has to be spet now? Why so much? Heck, I think I was being robbed. So let’s say you ask a question and the guy with the nice hair cut calls you an evil conservative or whacky liberal. Just give me the money and everything will be fine. Does that make any sense? About as much as what the politicians are doing now.

    Third, why so fast? Why no debate on whether this is the correct course of action? How about a real analysis of whether this will help or hurt? How about long term inflation, a devalued dollar, and only tempory construction jobs that go away after the stimulas building is over? I don’t care what party you like, everyone should be outraged about the idea we should spend all this money now or there will be DOOM.

    Nasa funding is fine. Put in the appropriations bill where it belongs. Debate it, talk about it, follow the system. More money for the NSF? OK, great, I love science too, but with limited resources maybe we should debate how much goes to the NSF and how much goes to help starving children or any other program you think should get funding! Is science spending more important than any other spending?

    My point here is not that government spending is bad, or that tax cuts are bad, or that corporations or evil or not evil, but rather eveyone on this blog, and BA too should be highly skeptical of anything coming out of any politicians mouth on either side of the issue, especially when so much money is involved!

  68. Tim

    Obama has handled the process of passing the bill like an experienced amateur!
    Oh wait he is one. That’s what you get when you elect someone who has done ABSOLUTELY nothing before they got elected. Experience matters! and Obama does not have the right kind.

    Lastly, we elected obama to SUCCEED in a bipartisian way.
    This is not just the republicans fault, it is obama’s fault for not succeeding in getting their support. ANYONE CAN TRY to get their support. but we elected obama so he can succeed.
    what a fraud!

  69. Was BO simple naive claiming he could be “bipartisan?” Or was it political fluff to attract the idealistic ignorant voter. I think the whole idea of bipartisanship to be childish. Each elected office is sent to government office to represent the people in their state/district/country. If one group of voters want tax cuts and less government, it makes no sense to vote to raise taxes and increase government. BO needs to realize that he doesn’t have a mandate from the entire country. Almost as many people voted for the other guy. Now, lets see him work out compromise that pissed off the least amount of people.

  70. Stark

    Gus said : “Is science spending more important than any other spending?”

    Yes, yes it is.

    Historically speaking investments in pure science have paid off in more ways than can be easily counted. Feeding starving children today is all well and good but you are better served if you invest in agricultural research to bring the cost of food down and the availability up so reduce the number of starving kids to begin with. It like the saying goes – give a man a fish feed him for day, tech him to fish feed him for a lifetime. Science is the modern worlds fishing – it is only through science research that we will be able to create a new global economy capable of supporting the global populace. New industries require new science.

    Certainly something needs to be done about short term issues (starving kids, unemployment, etc) – but you have to find a way to do it that also stimulates long term recovery.

  71. Sili

    I wonder about the cognitive dissonance necessary to rail against foreign countries outpacing us, yet trying to cut science funding.

    There’s no cognitive dissonance. They just think that it’ll be better to spend the money on bombing us back to the Stoneage, rather than trying to get you out of the Bronzeage.

  72. justcorbly

    Bush was not an economic conservative.

    Doesn’t make a bit of difference politically. (And has nothing to do with the thrust of my comment.)

    And were all those Republican’s in the House and Senate not-conservatives when they passed pretty mich evey spending bill Bush wanted? Did they suddenly become legitimate on January 20th?

    Reality is that people who have been calling themselves conservative for the last 30 years broke the country. Word-gaming won’t change people’s minds or votes.

  73. Utakata

    I guess if the Dems put that this stimulus package will include invading a “rogue” state that the Repugs don’t like…it would likely have no difficulty in passing.

  74. Gus

    Stark:

    Sounds great, science spending is better than someone elses spending. I’m not going to argue that. But lets have the debate. And lets stop this non-sense that we have to spend a trillion dollars in a bill that nobody has read and just HOPE that we are not DOOMED and lets do it by the end of the week. Their is no science or even thinking occurring at this point.

  75. MadScientist

    Ah, such hipocrisy on Capitol Hill as usual. NASA and NOAA can sure use that money and the bit for the NSF should give researchers a bit more to work with. I wouldn’t doubt that the DoE has good use for its small share too; DoE supports a lot of energy related research in the country but as with most research projects, there simply isn’t enough money getting around to maintain people’s interest in the work. Now all those bits that Phil listed amount to a measly $2B or so – absolutely nothing when compared with the pork-barrel clauses inserted into the last “stimulus” package. Here’s another way of looking at it: the legislative assembly is anti-science and pro-religion (consistent with the assemblies during the Dubbyah regime). As I see it (and people call me cynical -bah), Congress is trying to make itself look good by cutting small line items and claiming to “cut waste” on the one hand while inserting huge pork-barrel items on the other hand – the legislation will pass once everyone’s got their bit of pig in it.

  76. justcorbly,

    You were just doing a bit of gaming yourself, by ignorantly labeling Bush economic policies as conservative as a way to brush off a whole theory of economics. I don’t care about the politics of it. Republicans have been running as republicans, not economic conservatives. The name of the party is “Republican” not “Conservative”.

  77. Infinite Monkey

    While I understand everyone wants a little, lets keep things in perspective. This is designed to stimulate the economy: imediately. As far as I’m concerned, it should have 3 items in it:

    Tax breaks
    Rebates
    Infrastructure

    Anything outside of that is, IMHO, off topic. I understand this group needs this, that city needs that, and the other state needs the other. That’s fine, not here.

  78. Anti Evolutionist Loon

    @Cheyenne

    “She already is. All fed spending bills have to originate in the House – then move to the Senate.”

    I was speaking more towards the fact that she would have assumed presidential office in this case. From where I sit (too close to DC for my liking) this has been presented as the Obama stimulus plan that is being presented to the house and senate for approval, then his signature.

    I know that Democrats made empty threats about moving to Canada if Bush was re-elected and Republicans have made the empty threat about moving to Canada if(when) Obama was elected. I can honestly say that moving overseas would seem pretty attractive if I had to deal with Pelosi for four years. She’s just Sarah Palin without the MILF/GILF appeal that Palin has.

    Yikes.

  79. justcorbly

    You were just doing a bit of gaming yourself, by ignorantly labeling Bush economic policies as conservative as a way to brush off a whole theory of economics.

    Don’t be silly. Isn’t Bush the guy who called himself the “compassionate conservative?” Show me a GOP member of the House or Senate who is willing to deny he or she is a conservative.

    This business about Bush not being a conservative was concocted only after he drove us trillions into debt and into financial collapse. The people who now deny Bush was a conservative were the same people who defended and voted for his spending for eight years, all the while proudly asserting their conservatism.

    Edmund Burke has not been reincarnated. The Bush’s, Cheney’s, McConnell’s and Limbaugh’s of the world are the essence of contemporary American conservatism. The ideas of that movement are wrong, in an ethcial sense and in a practical sense: They don’t work. That’s the takeaway lesson of the Bush administration, and the voters aren’t going to forgive or forget.

  80. Luke

    This isn’t a stimulus bill at all, but a bunch of pork going to special interest groups, instead of creating jobs, while I am 100% against deficit spending, if we are going to do this, put people back to work updating the interstate highway system, fixing the sewers in major cities which have yearly flooding and dumping into rivers because they can’t handle the current load of waste water. Lay as much digital telecommunications lines as possible in outlying areas.

    These things will create jobs right now and not like the bill is as of now some 20 years in the future, or just create another government job where someone does nothing and draws a huge pension.

    I am a strong conservative and hated Bush on everything fiscal he did since the 03 take cuts. I hate the fact that we waste billions on endowments and grants to projects which do nothing (ie paying artist to create abstract art for a museum) while are infrastructure is falling apart or only at 1970 standards.

    Bush and the republicans made this mess by refusing to cut any pork from the budget (Bush was afraid of the veto for some reason) which was only made worse in 06 when the democrats took control and is now the worst its ever been.

    Just remember we didn’t get out of the depression from the New Deal, it was WWII and the need and creation of real jobs which produce real results.

  81. Part of the issue with bolstering our overtaxed power grid is an environmental one: Building power lines on new land is almost always opposed by both environmental regulatory agencies and environmental activist groups.

    On a recent episode of _Nova_, California Governor Schwarzenegger was shown lamenting the fact that a newly-built wind power facility, which was built to aid the cause of environmentalism, couldn’t add its power to the grid because installing the power lines was opposed by environmentalists!

  82. Scott

    Not all spending is equal or even useful and when the government is planning a package of close to 1 trillion dollars in spending and tax cuts at a time when we already have huge deficits then I think they should take a serious look at this rather than just rushing everything through. I definitely hope the spending on science and basic R&D does not get cut as I consider it vital to the security and well being of this country. I’m glad the Republicans in the Senate are saying “wait a minute” although the ones in the House weren’t contributing anything useful. I wish the Republicans had a closer eye on the purse strings when they had the majority but better late than never. I do think Obama made a mistake and left far too much of the bill writing up to the Democrats in Congress, which I believe is why every time we turned around, it was getting bigger. Looks like they may have reached a deal in the Senate tonight though. In any event, remember the bills for all this spending will come due at some point.

  83. David D

    As usual, this blog SUCKS when it comes to rational thinking as applied to politics. Using talkingpointsmemo or (in the past) crooksandliars as references seems a little biased to me.

    Does anyone really have any idea what kind of pork is in this thing? No. So, the skeptical, rational thinker says “Sure–spend 900 billion dollars–I don’t care where, just spend it”–are you serious?

    And not a peep about the politicization of science (see Chu’s Ehrlich imitation the other day)–oh wait, it’s politicized in a “favorable” way, so it’s okay. . .

    Oh well–HOPE AND CHANGE!!!!

  84. Miko

    I wrote to thank those who voted against it. I realize they probably wanted to replace it with something equally bad like tax cuts without spending cuts, but for whatever reason they voted correctly.

    It is a spending bill, not a stimulus bill–not because it’s been politicized, even though it has been, but simply because the government doesn’t have the power to stimulate the economy. All money it gives to the economy first has to be taken away from the economy; the jobs that are lost as a result are scattered and hard to see; the jobs that created are clustered in a highly visible area, thus creating an illusion for people who don’t care to follow the process through logically. Consider this: the jobs that are lost are typically workers at the margin, which means for the most part minimum wage workers. The jobs that created are going to be for the most part high-paying government bureaucratic positions. What this bill does is rob the poor to pay the rich special interests that funded Obama’s campaign, just let Bush’s identical (if smaller in absolute size) “stimulus” package robbed the poor to pay the rich special interests that funded his campaign. Ask yourself: if you realized that Bush’s “stimulus” package of tax cuts and deficit spending was a bad idea, why do you think it’s a good idea when Obama does _EXACTLY THE SAME THING_?

    The only thing that has changed is which special interest groups are getting the pork.

  85. “This Package Is Unstimulated”

    You know, Phil, they have pills for that now. I hear one even last 36 hours…

    Seriously, this is most awesome, gayest (not that there’s anything wrong with that) headline I’ve ever seen the BA come up with!

    Which makes Miko’s last sentence take on a whole new meaning:

    “The only thing that has changed is which special interest groups are getting the pork.”

    Umm, maybe I should get some sleep now?

  86. Quiet Desperation

    I’m afraid you have to explain that one to me, QD.

    It was a dumb Trek quote.

    It was just that I intentionally made a general sort of statement (that I care about what works, not whether it passes some ideological litmus test), an you said, in effect, “Hey, that was a general statement.”

    Reality is that people who have been calling themselves conservative for the last 30 years broke the country.

    No, *politicians* have broken the country. Period. And they laugh their butts off at you when you play their little partisan games for them. We don’t need more Dems or more Reps, we need a fundamentally different sort of person in office, but we have a system that drives anyone sane away from even contemplating running for office. Maybe Obama is different, but with him coming out of the great Chicago Political Machine I never had much hope on that front.

    , but it’s not true either just to say that ‘Keynesianism’, unqualified,

    No, I said it was “outdated Keynesianism”. I picked my words carefully. Keynesianism has actually come a long way since the 1930s. Some of the stimulus package’s biggest critics are modern Keynesianists. At the end of the day, though, you cannot spend your way to prosperity. Like I said, that idea is taught as a an economic fallacy at the graduate level. You either have to tax more, which is a drag on the economy, or you print more money, which is a drag on the economy in other ways.

    As for Bush being a conservative, or people calling him that, well, “conservatism” has a specific meaning. Because someone who calls himself conservative and then violates the rules of that particular ideology DOES NOT CHANGE THE DEFINITION OF THE WORD. It simply means he was NOT a conservative. In fact, most astute people I know said he wasn’t really a conservative back in 2000, myself included.

    I honestly don’t know what to call Bush other than “complete disaster”. ;-)

  87. Quiet Desperation

    And citing lists of 300 ‘economists’ just smacks of the Oregon petition to me: as denialists are fond of pointing out, science is not a democracy.

    It is important. 300 economists were moved to make such a public statement. Science *is* about facts and figures and logic. So counter their argument rather than blindly dismissing them and putting them in quotes.

    Hey… 300… like the Spartans. ;-)

  88. QD, you’re doing it again! (“I care about what works, not whether it passes some ideological litmus test”). Unless you tell me what your goal is, everything works and nothing works. For example, one can argue that the Bush administration’s diplomacy worked really well… when the goal was alienating US allies in the run-up to the war in Iraq. It did not work so well if the aim was to build a strong coalition for the war. It is important to state what you want to achieve when you make judgements about what works. My earlier comment was not that you made a general statement, but that you made a meaningless statement.

    Of course, you are right to the extent that toeing the party line can be crippling for the process of government, but your anti-ideological statements were (and always have been) far more general. Too general to be tenable, in fact.

  89. Grump

    Some points I feel need raising, although I don’t claim to know the answers to them myself:

    1) How is this different to the bill that Bush was promoting in his last days in the office? Did that one pass? Is this a follow-up or a replacement to that one? I honestly can’t keep track.

    2) Why were conservatives in favour of the allegedly pork-filled Bush plan, but are rabidly against the allegedly pork-filled Obama plan? I’m sure it’s not simply hypocrisy (although I’m sure there’s a healthy dose of it.) There must be more to it than that, but again, I honestly want to know what that difference is.

    3) How can the RWTs* claim there isn’t enough skepticism on this blog? When more than half the comments rabidly oppose the bill, but a high percentage support it, at least in principle? Since the attitude here is obviously not unanimous, surely someone must be showing showing some skepticism? On this point I do have an opinion: Hypocrisy, close-mindedness, and a simplistic attempt at manipulation! (“The skeptics are the ones supporting MY position, and the uncritical drones are the ones supporting the OTHER position!”)

    4) “Obama should be more bipartisan! He lied! He’s clearly not working with Republicans!” By “Republicans” do you mean the same set of shifty, self-interested, power-at-all-costs, unscrupulous bastards that systematically excluded the Dems when they were a minority, regardless of centuries of tradition, principle and protocol? The ones who fiddled while the Middle East burned down? The ones who reflexively resorted to the filibuster during the last two years when they did not have control of the Senate? The ones who (admittedly with the assistance of Hillary Clinton) painted Obama as a Muslim radical who would turn the US into some sort of caricature of a socialist country? Who underhandedly appealed to pockets of white American racism? Those Republicans?

    (And yes, I know that the Dems are son-of-female-dogs, too. They are politicians, after all. But there is a quantitative difference her so large it becomes almost qualitative. And sticking one’s head in the sand and going “They’re all the same, so it doesn’t matter anyway.” is one of the things that lead to Bush ascending to the throne in the first place. Yes, the Dems are simply the lesser of two evils, but could we please see some realpolitik, at least in the short term? Now id *not* the time to push for the ascendancy of minority political parties, no matter how favourable that would be in the long term.**

    *) A no-prize to whomever can guess what RWT means. Although I think it may already be a common TLA.

    **) Oops! Did I just go off on an off-topic rant? Sorry, it happens, and I’m sure I’m neither the first nor the last to do so in this forum.

  90. A bunch of people here seem to be missing a number of basic facts:

    1) Spending IS Stimulus — Come on, this is basic logic here. The point is to increase demand by giving people money to spend. You can argue over the best ways to “stimulate” but this whole idea that it’s “Spending not stimulus” is disingenuous double-talk. The WHOLE POINT of ANY stimulus package is to SPEND!

    2) We are on the edge of an abyss of deflation where our economy self-destructs — people and companies have less to spend, so they cut back, which gives everyone even less to spend, so they cut back even more, etc. Since the Fed has already shot its wad the only viable alternative to stop this death spiral is stimulus spending.

    3) Thus, the idea that we should spend less and be more “responsible” as a way to get out of this mess is total ideological idiocy. It’s like arguing that the way to combat starvation is to go on a diet! The point now is to get the economy moving again. Once better times return THEN you tighten your belt.

    Come on people — we are facing another possible Great Depression. We can’t let empty-headed ideology get in the way of good and necessary economics.

  91. David D

    @Grump–

    A coupla points:

    1. The Bush bill supposedly was handed out to the banks to shore them up. There has been little to no accounting for that money.

    2. Conservatives were actually against Bush’s bill. Since it was given to banks and banking institutions, it didn’t contain pork as it is defined in the traditional sense. The current bill is all pork, and with earmarks, too–isn’t that something that Obama said he was going to do away with? Where is his leadership on this?

    3. The commenters on this blogpost may be conservative, but this blog definitely isn’t. BA can have whatever political leanings he wants, and express them in whatever way he feels appropriate, but some of us will call him on it when he leaves his skeptical, rational thinking behind and plays partisan politics.

    4. When the Republicans were in the minority in the past, I don’t think the Dems acted with regard to “centuries of tradition, principle and protocol” either. Yep, those Dems, who played the race card and insisted that “if you didn’t vote for Obama, then you were a racist.”

    And I’m pretty sure the Middle East was in flames long before Bush got into office (Khobar towers, Iranian hostages, etc.).

  92. David D

    @Alan–

    “Spending IS Stimulus”—okay, but not all spending is stimulus, so it’s not really a “basic logic” issue here. If the point is to increase demand by giving people money to spend, why not just give people back their money directly? I saw somewhere that it works out to something like 10k per US family. How is renovating the Dept of Commerce building “stimulus”? They gonna start renovating tomorrow? Or are they going to have a committee study 10 different proposals, etc.? How is “digital TV coupons” a stimulus?

    Your analogy about “starvation” is simply wrong. The economy wasn’t starving in any way shape of form. We have lived beyond our means for a long time, not starved ourselves. When you have maxed out your credit cards, the answer is not to get a loan from the bank, but to cut back on your spending. Sure, “stimulate” the economy–but do it without all the pork and earmarks.

    And do it without playing on people’s fears. Isn’t that what the Dems accused Bush of doing? Whatever happened to choosing hope over fear?

  93. Jima

    “And studies show that money spent on NASA is returned multiplied several times. In other words, we make money on NASA.”

    I know you posted links to these reports in the past, but I can’t seem to find them at the moment. Could you please point me in the right direction?
    Thankyou.

  94. psychman

    What a depressing thread going on here. Not in terms of the topic, but in the lack of evidence-based arguments. Infrastructure needs fixing. Science deserves money. Republican are (insert comment here). Democrats (insert different comment here).

    We promote ourselves as rational thinkers and do a pretty good job here when it comes to discussing astrophysics, cosmology, vaccines , ET life, etc. But the majority of comments on this thread are pathetic. At times such as these, in which many questions need answers, rational thinkers should be providing rational arguments for evidence-based solutions. Such thinking and such answers are sorely lacking.

  95. Dave

    You got this one wrong Phil.

    For once, drop the party line, and look at it realistically. What is the best thing for this country now……OUR Country!!
    Why does the Capitol Mall need 210 million dollars worth of work? And what will that do to stimulate our economy? Did you know that only 7% of all the money will be spent this year? How does that small an infusion stimulate our economy?

    Please take a look at what the CBO says about this bill, and really look at the money going to things that do little or nothing for this country as a whole.

  96. Zaphobia

    Phil, Phil, Phil…

    Shouldn’t an increase in spending for those programs be part of the budget and not part of this package supposedly designed to stimulate the economy? Is it that difficult for you to see past the carrot stick waving in front of you? I’m not so keen on giving Nancy Pelosi a blank check for “special interests”, but by all means, go right ahead if it suits you.

  97. Zaphobia, Zaphobia, Zaphobia, did you not read what I wrote about stimulus? Putting money into science does stimulate the economy. If you’d prefer to throw away more than half a trillion dollars to bankers so that we can fail to jump-start the economy, by all means go right ahead. But if you want the economy to get moving and stay moving, we need to invest.

    So many years of Congressional cuts to science funding needs to be fixed, and this is a fine way to do it.

  98. @David D — It IS a basic logic issue. Spending BY DEFINITION is stimulus. Some of it can be more effective than others (For example, studies show that Food Stamps are the most “bang for your buck” stimulus in general), but it all goes to getting money in the hands of people to spend.

    By comparison, tax rebates don’t work very well (they lack the multiplier effect of spending) because you are trying to “rebate” money people don’t have. How, for example, is a big “rebate check” on my taxes going to help if thanks to unemployment I’m not paying taxes? Tax cuts tend to go to richer people who either just save the money or spend it in less effecient ways.

    Likewise, the fact that you state that the starvation model doesn’t apply shows you just don’t understand the terrible situation we are in. Your argument, in fact, isn’t economic, but moral — you are like an ant angry at the supposed irresponsible indulgence of his grasshopper friends. They need to be punished for their lack of self-control with a long period of hardship.

    What this forgets is that the grasshoppers don’t still have plenty and should, for moral reasons, cut back and be thrifty like the ants. The grasshoppers are in fact destitute and at the edge of starvation and ruin. Yes, the grasshoppers should learn self-control, but first they have to survive. To do so you give them enough food (spending, in the case of a human economy) until times improve. Once relative abundance returns THEN you use the extra to pay back the earlier loan of food.

    The alternative is to stand and watch as the grasshoppers wither away — or, in our case, as our economy slides into self-reinforcing deflation. Your “solution” invites our economic destruction. Real life trumps your ideology.

  99. BMcP

    I wonder if Obama understands what that means to future packages he proposes.

    Hopefully it will mean to him that creating another trillion dollar deficit hole that our grandchildren will be spending their lives paying for is a bad idea. Especially because a bunch of politicians desire pork barrel spending and fattening their usually unnecessary and unproductive government programs while using scare tactics to give the impression we the people need this when it will solve nothing.

    Always amazed at the “through money at it” solution, as if all this extra money floats magically down like manna from the land of magical pink unicorns, pixies and gumdrops and not borrowed from foreign nations, many who are less then friendly.

  100. David D

    @Alan–

    What planet are you watching from?

    “Spending BY DEFINITION is stimulus”–not in any dictionary that I can find. Government spending (i.e., throwing money at a problem) does not necessarily stimulate economic growth. I am not saying all govt. spending is wrong or bad, but most of it tends to have unintended consequences, and grows bureacracies and not much else. And where did you get the study that Food Stamps give the most bang for your buck? Can you reference that for me?

    And remember–the government isn’t just spending money–it’s spending your money, my money, our money that we “gave” them in the form of taxes. I’d at least like the folks responsible for spending my money to be able to tell me what they are spending it on, and to show me how it’s going to stimulate the economy right now.

    I am not a “why are we spending our money on rockets when we have enough problems down here” kind of person, like some people on the left are. I know that the space program has paid for itself many times over in direct and indirect dividends. But it’s an investment, and not necessarily something that will immediately stimulate the economy. Remember, the President has stressed the fearful urgency of our circumstances.

    I’m sorry, but your starvation model doesn’t work. This isn’t about grasshoppers and ants. Our economy isn’t in the tank because there has been a huge increase in the numbers of poor grasshoppers–where did you see this in “real life?” Where are the grasshoppers who are “in fact destitute and at the edge of starvation and ruin?”

    “Once relative abundance returns THEN you use the extra to pay back the earlier loan of food.” Huh? What extra? I’m not an economist, but that doesn’t seem to have anything to do with how the world works.

    Real life trumps my ideology? Not by what you have said, not at all.

  101. David D

    I have certain rules I live by. My first rule: I don’t believe anything the government tells me.

    — George Carlin

    Why should this be any less true right now?

  102. @David D —

    ““Spending BY DEFINITION is stimulus”–not in any dictionary that I can find”

    This is like saying “cash” is not “money”. Let me repeat — the point is to get money in the hands of people who will then turn around and use it to buy things. If the government orders a project where a street is paved all the workers and business participating get money for their labor. Since they need to eat and may enjoy extras like a trip to the movies they turn around and spend their money on stuff. That puts money into the hands of more people who also buy stuff, and so on. The original outlay of money stimulates growth by giving everyone involved a reason to engage in economic activity.

    Now, you could also have stimulus if the goverment spent the money buying, say, flower arrangements. That is why spending = stimulus. However, I think most people would agree that having roads is more important than over-decorated dinner tables at the White House (and is better in the long run as the road lasts far longer). So, some spending is clearly better than other spending, but it is ALL ultimately stimulus.

    “And where did you get the study that Food Stamps give the most bang for your buck?”

    Do a google search. I found many links to the information with thirty seconds of effort.

    However, simple logic will tell you that Food Stamps are going to be an excellent type of stimulus — it’s guaranteed to be used rather than saved. People have to eat, after all. It’s one of those unavoidable biological things.

    “Where are the grasshoppers who are “in fact destitute and at the edge of starvation and ruin?””

    Do I have to explain how metaphors work? We are talking about the “grasshopper” that is the American economy. It’s falling off a cliff and needs to be saved, yet your argument amounts to suggesting that since the rope to do so costs money we shouldn’t do it. Another Great Depression will be far more expensive than any stimulus package. Penny wise, pound foolish.

    “Huh? What extra? I’m not an economist, but that doesn’t seem to have anything to do with how the world works.”

    Let me translated my statement into a non-metaphor: We borrow money now to stimulate the economy so that once it is more productive and successful we can use the excess to pay back the loan. Borrowing to invest and increase economic vitality (and then paying it back) is a basic concept of capitalism.

  103. “Why should this be any less true right now?”

    So, your argument boils down to a conspiracy theory (We can’t trust the government! It’s evil! Ahhhhhhhhhhhh!)?

    And, if not the government, who? UFOs? The face on Mars? Sylvia Brown?

  104. David D

    @Alan–
    Found your studies about food stamp programs as economic stimulants–very interesting. I will have to read further.

    You know, not every dollar spent in the stimulus package is going to create a job or generate spending or worse, not be wasted. The Army Corps of Engineers apparently will have their budget doubled, without any clear instructions on what to spend it on. Ask the folks in New Orleans (I used to live there) how good the Corps is at not wasting money.

    ” . . . yet your argument amounts to suggesting that since the rope to do so costs money we shouldn’t do it.” Nah–I’m just arguing that instead of using a jerry-rigged rope that you quickly tied together with old string and bedsheets, why not use a really good, STRONG, EFFICIENT rope that will last for a long time, and that we can use again for something else in the future?

    Guess I understand metaphors purty gud, huh?

    ” . . . we can use the excess to pay back the loan . . .” Are you so sure there is going to be an excess? The Congressional Budget Office doesn’t even think so. Then what?

  105. David D

    Oh, and maybe you can explain to me how spending $90,000,0000 to educate people about having to get a convertor box for their TV is going to stimulate the economy.

  106. “The Congressional Budget Office doesn’t even think so. Then what?”

    So, you are arguing that the government will never run a surplus again? If one always assumes the worst then, sure, every possible conclusion will be the worst.

    “Oh, and maybe you can explain to me how spending $90,000,0000 to educate people about having to get a convertor box for their TV is going to stimulate the economy.”

    Because the people employed in the educating are going to spend the money they receive for doing so rather than just burning it?

  107. David D

    @Alan–

    No, I’m not arguing that government will never run a surplus again–where did I say that? And it’s not me that is assuming the worst, it’s the CBO–Congress’s own accounting agency! You kind of avoided the question anyways. And the money for the convertor box education doesn’t strike you as wasteful at all?

    Let me just say that I feel like this stimulus plan has more than enough pork in it to choke all of us on. And maybe it’s just my opinion, but government’s track record on efficiency and honesty is not that good. Perhaps you feel otherwise; did you have this same confidence in the last 8 years?

    Government isn’t all bad–I’m not saying that either. But I don’t know–it looks like you don’t really believe that the Feds engage in wasteful spending—all money spent by the government is going to do good. Sure, there’s fraud and waste in the private sector–lots of it, I’m afraid; the difference is I don’t have to spend money on companies and businesses that suck. I can take my money elsewhere. With taxes, I don’t have that choice (although a few of Obama’s high-level nominees think they do).

    I’d rather spend more of MY money myself, rather than send increasing amounts of it to the Republicans AND Democrats in Washington to spend it for me.

    If you want, you can send donations to the Treasury Department on your own. I’m sure they won’t mind.

    We should respectfully agree to disagree on this one.

  108. Quiet Desperation

    the point is to get money in the hands of people who will then turn around and use it to buy things.

    Which tax cuts do, and cut out the middle man (government) in the process. Carefully targeted cuts can do wonders.

    More than anything now the Credit markets need to be unfrozen. That seems to have been forgotten about in the current debates.

    Too general to be tenable, in fact.

    If you say so.

  109. @ David D:

    No, I’m not arguing that government will never run a surplus again–where did I say that?

    That’s the implication when you say that any new debt won’t be paid off. As for what the CBO says, are they suggesting the debt will never be paid off?

    And the money for the convertor box education doesn’t strike you as wasteful at all?

    Not really as it’s something that needs to be done. Though, “not wasteful” is not quite the same thing as “perfectly utilized”.

    Let me just say that I feel like this stimulus plan has more than enough pork in it to choke all of us on.

    The problem here is that “pork” is a highly (though not totally) subjective term. The term can too easily be used as a lazy arguing technique so as to dismiss policies you don’t like (or defend an ideology you do) without actually making a real case for a particular point-of-view.

    And maybe it’s just my opinion, but government’s track record on efficiency and honesty is not that good.

    Government is as “effecient” as other organizations of similar size. The idea that business is fundamentally more “effecient” than government is hogwash, an argument based on the disingenuous tactic of comparing huge government programs to small businesses. In such cases government will always look bad simply because you are comparing large to small. Turn that around — small city government compared to huge mega-corp — and suddenly government is a model of effeciency. I’ve worked for large corporations — the waste, petty-politics, and irrationality was spectacular.

    Perhaps you feel otherwise; did you have this same confidence in the last 8 years?

    No, but that’s because I thought government had been hijacked and corrupted, not that it is inherently bad. It’s more than a bit unfair to put a band devoted to trashing government in charge and then, when they actually trash it, declaring “see, government is bad”.

    Besides, we got in this mess pricisely because government stepped back and let Wall Street run hog wild. Not exactly a stirling endorsement of the “effeciency” of the free market.

    it looks like you don’t really believe that the Feds engage in wasteful spending

    Sure I do. I’m not arguing for a lack of oversight or thought when it comes to the stimulus, only that we need to rather desperately and — for psychological reasons if nothing else — fast.

    With taxes, I don’t have that choice

    Sure you do — it’s called elections. And, if the bum you elected isn’t doing right as you see it then agitate for something better. That’s the wonder of democracy — you don’t like the people in charge then put in new people.

    There is a deeper reality here as well — taxes are part of the cost of living in a modern society. You get a lot of benefits from doing do, benefits like peace, capitalism, roads, crime privention, and so forth. Whining about taxes and effectively suggesting they are all unfair is tantimount to arguing you should get all the benefits of citizenship without the costs.

  110. Which tax cuts do, and cut out the middle man (government) in the process. Carefully targeted cuts can do wonders.

    This only works if you actually have taxes to be cut. When people are losing jobs a tax cut on income they aren’t getting doesn’t mean much. Likewise, unless really “targeted” tax cuts tend to just be giveaways to the rich and business, who in turn will tend to save the money rather than spend it.

    As for “wonders” where do you get that? Bush’s grand tax cuts — which gutted government funding and left us with a huge debt — accomplished little if anything beyond allowing the rich to get richer. As history now shows the supposed “prosperity” of the middle oughts was an illusion fueled with a housing bubble, not the result of Bush’s tax policies.

  111. Grand Lunar

    “The money that goes to NASA, for example, is to the Exploration directorate, which includes going to the Moon and living in space. The money spent by Congress on these programs is invested, not wasted. And studies show that money spent on NASA is returned multiplied several times. In other words, we make money on NASA.”

    More people ought to be told this, before they bash space programs for being a waste.
    It sure is better than the many more billions spent on useless wars and invasions.

  112. Quiet Desperation

    tax cuts tend to just be giveaways to the rich and business, who in turn will tend to save the money rather than spend it.

    And that “saving” is investments that, surprise, can create jobs. It’s not put into some Scrooge McDuck office block sized safe untouchable by mere mortals. It’s all out there churning away.

    It’s really fraking scary how ignorant people are about the economy.

    As for “wonders” where do you get that? Bush’s grand tax cuts — which gutted government funding and left us with a huge debt — accomplished little if anything beyond allowing the rich to get richer.

    Cite?

    Never mind. I will.

    http://www.heritage.org/research/taxes/bg2001.cfm

    But, please, do keep playing the class warfare game and pitting citizens against one another. The politcians absolutely love people like you.

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