Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

How Timidity in Washington Wrecked the Economy


We now have even more evidence that inept policies from Washington are causing enormous suffering across the country. It is not quite the line that the right-wingers are pushing. The new evidence is that the stimulus worked and was in fact more effective than had been predicted.

The new evidence comes in the form of a study by two Dartmouth professors, James Feyrer and Bruce Sacerdote. Past estimates of the impact of the stimulus on jobs and the economy relied on simply plugging the tax breaks and spending into standard macro models and reporting the predicted effect. In this sense, the impact of the stimulus was actually built into the model. However this new study directly measures the impact of stimulus spending on employment across states, comparing the number of jobs created to the amount of spending.

The study consistently finds significant results over a wide range of specifications. This means that states that got more stimulus money had more jobs. The multipliers varied across specifications and types of spending but the range was 0.5 to 2.0. (The multiplier is the ratio of the change in GDP to the amount of stimulus spending. If the multiplier is 1.5 this means that $1 billion in stimulus increases GDP by $1.5 billion.) While the authors view their multiplier estimates as being somewhat below those predicted by the standard macro models, given the nature of their study their estimates are almost certainly higher than would be expected.

The approach used in this study almost certainly understates the true multiplier effect for the stimulus because it is effectively measuring the in-state multiplier. In other words, it is measuring how much $1 billion spent in Indiana will increase the size of Indiana’s economy.

This will certainly be far less than its impact on the U.S. economy for three reasons. First many of the people hired for stimulus related projects are likely to live out of state. If Indiana contracts to rebuild Indiana Harbor (adjacent to Chicago), it is virtually certain that many of the workers will come from Illinois. This will be true of spending in any state with major population centers near the border (e.g. New York City, Philadelphia, Chicago).

The second reason is that much of the inputs are likely to come from out of state. Very little of the steel, asphalt or other materials connected with an infrastructure project will come from the state where the project is taking place.

The third reason that the study would understate the multiplier is that the re-spending from stimulus is far more likely to go out of state. This is not just because many people may cross state lines to do shopping or go to restaurants. Even if a person were to go to a store or restaurant in state to spend the money they earned through working on a stimulus project, much of the money would end up going out of state.

An appliance or video game may have been made in the United States, but it would be unlikely that it was made in Indiana, or whatever state’s spending is being investigated. Similarly, the food served in a restaurant may have been grown in the United States, but probably not in Indiana.

For these reasons, measuring the amount that stimulus spending in Indiana led to an increase in the size of Indiana’s economy is going to hugely understate the actual multiplier for the country as a whole. The range of multipliers found in this study suggests that the actual multiplier for stimulus spending is quite likely higher than the 1.5 in most macro models.

This is hugely important for macro-policy debates because it suggests that more stimulus would provide a further boost to the economy and reduction in unemployment. This means that the only reason that we are sitting here with 25 million people unemployed and underemployed is that the politicians in Washington are too intimidated by the Wall Street deficit hawks.

The deficit hawks have used their enormous political power and control over the media to shut down any further discussion of stimulus. They have managed to completely dominate public debate with their brand of flat-earth economics. They are using the crisis that was created through their greed and incompetence to reduce hugely valued public benefits, like Social Security and Medicare. And, now they are using the crisis that they have created for state and local governments to destroy public sector unions.

This looks really awful because it is. Our nations’ leaders are deliberately inflicting enormous pain on tens of millions of people to advance their political agenda. This new study helps to prove this fact.

DEAN BAKER is the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). He is the author of Plunder and Blunder: The Rise and Fall of the Bubble Economy and False Profits: Recoverying From the Bubble Economy.

This column was originally published by TMP Cafe.


Dean Baker is a macroeconomist and co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC. He previously worked as a senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute and an assistant professor at Bucknell University.

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Diana Johnstone
Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Ambition in a Nutshell
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future
Rob Urie
Name the Dangerous Candidate
Pepe Escobar
The Aleppo / Mosul Riddle
David Rosen
The War on Drugs is a Racket
Sami Siegelbaum
Once More, the Value of the Humanities
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
Neve Gordon
Israel’s Boycott Hypocrisy
Mark Hand
Of Pipelines and Protest Pens: When the Press Loses Its Shield
Victor Wallis
On the Stealing of U.S. Elections
Michael Hudson
The Return of the Repressed Critique of Rentiers: Veblen in the 21st century Rentier Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Drumbeats of Anti-Russia Confrontation From Washington to London
Howard Lisnoff
Still Licking Our Wounds and Hoping for Change
Brian Gruber
Iraq: There Is No State
Peter Lee
Trump: We Wish the Problem Was Fascism
Stanley L. Cohen
Equality and Justice for All, It Seems, But Palestinians
Steve Early
In Bay Area Refinery Town: Berniecrats & Clintonites Clash Over Rent Control
Kristine Mattis
All Solutions are Inadequate: Why It Doesn’t Matter If Politicians Mention Climate Change
Peter Linebaugh
Ron Suny and the Marxist Commune: a Note
Andre Vltchek
Sudan, Africa and the Mosaic of Horrors
Keith Binkly
The Russians Have Been Hacking Us For Years, Why Is It a Crisis Now?
Jonathan Cook
Adam Curtis: Another Manager of Perceptions
Ted Dace
The Fall
Sheldon Richman
Come and See the Anarchy Inherent in the System
Susana Hurlich
Hurricane Matthew: an Overview of the Damages in Cuba
Dave Lindorff
Screwing With and Screwing the Elderly and Disabled
Chandra Muzaffar
Cuba: Rejecting Sanctions, Sending a Message
Dennis Kucinich
War or Peace?
Joseph Natoli
Seething Anger in the Post-2016 Election Season
Jack Rasmus
Behind The 3rd US Presidential Debate—What’s Coming in 2017
Ron Jacobs
A Theory of Despair?
Gilbert Mercier
Globalist Clinton: Clear and Present Danger to World Peace
James A Haught
Many Struggles Won Religious Freedom
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Dear Fellow Gen Xers: Let’s Step Aside for the Millennials
Uri Avnery
The Peres Funeral Ruckus
Tom Clifford
Duterte’s Gambit: the Philippines’s Pivot to China
Reyes Mata III
Scaling Camelot’s Walls: an Essay Regarding Donald Trump
Raouf Halaby
Away from the Fray: From Election Frenzy to an Interlude in Paradise
James McEnteer
Art of the Feel
David Yearsley
Trump and Hitchcock in the Age of Conspiracies
Charles R. Larson
Review: Sjón’s “Moonstone: the Boy Who Never Was”