Weekly Standard: Stimulus Has 'Stimulated' One Job

Originally published on July 7, 2011 9:34 am

Jeffrey H. Anderson was the senior speechwriter for Secretary Mike Leavitt at the Department of Health and Human Services.

On Sunday, I noted that an estimate from President Obama's own economists shows that the economic "stimulus" has cost taxpayers $278,000 per job and that, without the "stimulus," 288,000 additional jobs would have been added or saved over the past six months. Yesterday, the White House fired back. But its response further confirms that a large portion of "stimulus" spending has done nothing whatsoever to create jobs — and that the "stimulus" is now working in reverse, causing the economy to shed jobs.

The White House tries to obscure these condemning facts by claiming (1) that I misleadingly "cited a 2.4 million job figure instead of the 2.4 million to 3.6 million jobs listed in the White House report"; (2) that the stimulus "didn't just fund salaries"; (3) that the legislation "was more than a measure to create and save jobs"; (4) and that my "math is flawed." Let me address each of these assertions in sequence.

First, ABC White House correspondent Jake Tapper writes that I used "the low end of the estimate" released by Obama's Council of Economic Advisors (CEA). Likewise, he adds that "White House officials...questioned why the Weekly Standard would use the lower figure from the projection of the number of jobs created." I did not, however, use the "low end of the estimate" or the "lower figure from the projection." Rather, the CEA released two separate estimates — two separate projections — and I explicitly noted which one I was citing. The estimate I cited does not say that the "stimulus" added or saved between 2.4 and 3.6 million jobs. Instead, it says that the "stimulus" has added or saved 2.392 million jobs (see Table 3). Is the White House now suggesting that this estimate — released by Obama's handpicked team of economists — isn't credible or worthy of citing?

Even if one were to use the rosier of the two undoubtedly rosy CEA estimates (the one that says the "stimulus" has added or saved 3.6 million jobs) that would still come out to $185,000 per job. Moreover, both estimates show that the "stimulus" is now causing the economy to shed jobs — both show that the economy would now be generating job growth at a faster rate if the Democrats hadn't passed the "stimulus."

Second, the White House responds to my piece by claiming that "stimulus" spending "didn't just fund salaries but also went to the actual costs of building things." I never said, however, that the $278,000 per job has gone to salaries. Rather, I said that each job has cost taxpayers $278,000.

Third, the White House says that the stimulus "was more than a measure to create and save jobs; it was also an investment" in things "critical to America's long-term success." But back in early 2009, Obama's first head of the CEA, Christina Romer, said that the "stimulus" was a way to keep unemployment below 8 percent. By mid-2011, she predicted, unemployment would be below 7 percent. It's now 9.1 percent.

Moreover, something that's geared toward "America's long-term success" should presumably work over the long haul, rather than working only for a very short period and then proceeding to work in reverse. The White House says that the "stimulus" has involved "an investment" in things like "tax cuts" (tax credits) and projects to "jump-start emerging industries" and "spur local economic development." Yet Obama's economists say that the economy would have added or saved more jobs over the past six months without the "stimulus" than it has with it — 288,000 more, according to the CEA estimate that I cited. Clearly, the administration has not been "investing" in the future but merely spending in the present — spending money we don't have.

Largely contradicting its own claims about the stimulus's long-term focus, the White House also says that "the temporary nature of the stimulus bill meant that its impact would diminish over time, when the private sector began hiring again." But that's just the point: Obama's own economists show that the "stimulus" hasn't stimulated the private sector to begin hiring again. Instead, the private sector would be doing more hiring now if the "stimulus" had never been passed.

Fourth, the White House says that because I used the whole cost of the stimulus to date — $666 billion — in my calculations, while the stimulus was not just "a measure to create and save jobs" but also to "improve our infrastructure" by spending money on "construction materials, new factories, and such," my "math is flawed."

Leaving aside the question of how it's possible to spend billions on "construction materials, new factories, and such" and not create any jobs in the process, the White House is certainly free to maintain that it hasn't spent all of the "stimulus" money in a manner designed to create or save jobs. But that's an indictment in itself.

This much is clear: Based on an estimate by Obama's own economists, for every $278,000 in taxpayer-funded "stimulus" money that the Obama administration has spent — whatever it may have spent it on — the "stimulus" has added or saved just one job. Moreover — and again according to Obama's own economists — the "stimulus" is no longer adding or saving jobs, but instead is causing job growth to be more sluggish than it otherwise would be.

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