Tag Archives: Stimulus Package

Economic Creationism

When the leader of the Republican party insists that government jobs are not really jobs, but something else for which there is no word, and that as a matter of definition only a private employer can "create" a "job," you know you're not going to have a very informative discussion on the relative merits of government spending, not to mention the relative merits of particular spending programs and priorities.  You will spend all of your time instead trying to explain how moronic that distinction is and how irrelevant it is to the matter at hand.  Such inane distractions, however, may constitute a strategy for poisoning the well.  We can't have a serious discussion when the children are running around screaming.

Since I don't know anything about economics, I wonder about the merits of government spending.  Since I wonder about the effectiveness of government, I wonder whether some kinds of spending will be a complete waste.  Lots of economists, however, say that spending is a good idea–and they, real economists, not people with undergraduate degrees in English–claim that spending is appropriate in a time such as this.  Fair enough.  I wonder now what would be a serious rebuttal to this claim.  It is certainly not going to be this set of assertions from the Washington Post's Michael Gerson:

But that creed has now been tested in two areas. First, the new president deferred almost entirely to the Democratic congressional leadership on the initial shape of the stimulus package — which, in turn, was shaped by pent-up Democratic spending appetites instead of by an explainable economic theory. Senate modifications made the legislation marginally more responsible. But Obama's pragmatism, in this case, was a void of creativity, filled by the most aggressively ideological branch of government. And this managed to revive Republican ideological objections to federal overreach. In the new age of pragmatism, all the ideologues seem to be encouraged.

The spending, whatever its particular merits, is the theory.  And saying there is no "explainable economic theory" when (a) there is, and (b) that is the core claim of your argument just begs the question in the most obvious way.  That's what is at issue.

I know a lot of things about which program is better seem to be a matter of taste, not informed or justified opinion, and these sort of assertions just do not help change that impression.  There is, after all, a serious discussion worth having about the economy.  It would be nice if the Washington Post cared enough about its readers to insist that their columnists play along.  Hey Michael, an editor might say, say why there is no explainable economic theory–that's the key issue, after all, and no one can seriously just take your word for it, as you were the former President's speechwriter.