One year ago today President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, popularly known as the Stimulus Bill. That bill has become something of a flashpoint in the country’s political conversation (if you can call it that) ever since, with Republicans making outlandish claims along the lines of “it hasn’t created one new job” when of course it created many, and so forth.
Well, a year has gone by, and at least some of the facts are in. And guess what? It worked.
Imagine if, one year ago, Congress had passed a stimulus bill that really worked.
Let’s say this bill had started spending money within a matter of weeks and had rapidly helped the economy. Let’s also imagine it was large enough to have had a huge impact on jobs – employing something like two million people who would otherwise be unemployed right now.
If that had happened, what would the economy look like today?
Well, it would look almost exactly as it does now. Because those nice descriptions of the stimulus that I just gave aren’t hypothetical. They are descriptions of the actual bill.
Really? Wait – a Republican told me that the stimulus bill was a failure and that it didn’t create any jobs!
Perhaps the best-known economic research firms are IHS Global Insight, Macroeconomic Advisers and Moody’s Economy.com. They all estimate that the bill has added 1.6 million to 1.8 million jobs so far and that its ultimate impact will be roughly 2.5 million jobs. The Congressional Budget Office, an independent agency, considers these estimates to be conservative.
I know, I know. Facts are so boring compared to exciting, incendiary talking points. But here are some more facts.
Look, folks, there cannot be any serious doubt that the stimulus bill has done a lot of good. Could it have been better? Sure. Could it have been implemented more perfectly? Sure, though it’s hard to find that much fault for minor bumps in the road in light of the bill’s scope. But here’s the NYT again:
The program has had its flaws. But the attention they have received is wildly disproportionate to their importance. To hark back to another big government program, it’s almost as if the lasting image of the lunar space program was Apollo 6, an unmanned 1968 mission that had engine problems, and not Apollo 11, the moon landing.
Unfortunately, though, the political universe in which we currently live is a very strange one. Success is failure; new jobs are not jobs; up is down. I’m not sure what the best strategy is going forward, since talking honestly about what has actually happened doesn’t seem to be in vogue.