Economists and the stimulus – a five years after review

The Global Financial Crisis ended in the middle of 2009 at the very latest. A big explosion followed by the TARP and then nothing. Wherever your economy was by June that year, that was all there was. Not good but also not the Great Depression either. But also around the end of 2008 and then into 2009 there were the various Keynesian demand programs put in place that are the actual problem we face today. Credit is available and can be had and at relatively low rates. No one is in fear of some financial explosion, at least not in any serious way. Everyone is wary but no one is desperate.

The problem now is debt and deficits. Every economy is very quiet. Nowhere is there robust growth and a rapid return to full employment. Our economies are struggling to rebuild with no exception of any importance that I can think of although there is, as always, a range of outcomes. So we come to this survey on government policy conducted in the US. First there was this:

Question A: Because of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the U.S. unemployment rate was lower at the end of 2010 than it would have been without the stimulus bill.

For me, an unbending Strongly Disagree. That our economies would go flat and the labour market would stop dead were straightforward, but I don’t use a Keynesian model. These were the actual results:

Strongly agree             39%
Agree                          43%
Uncertain                      0%
Disagree                       2%
Strongly disagree          0%

But then they asked this:

Question B: Taking into account all of the ARRA’s economic consequences — including the economic costs of raising taxes to pay for the spending, its effects on future spending, and any other likely future effects — the benefits of the stimulus will end up exceeding its costs.

You might perhaps argue that the net effect on jobs was positive even if the cost to the economy was massive. This is the true test of economic idiocy and on this they abysmally failed. These were the expert opinions:

Strongly agree             20%
Agree                          36%
Uncertain                      23%
Disagree                       5%
Strongly disagree          0%

Only one in twenty disagreed and that was only mildly. There is no understanding these results other than the impossibility of even understanding why there might be a problem trying to encourage economic growth from the demand side.

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