The Obama Administration was lying about the Success of the Stimulus Bill

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 20th, 2013

Week in Review

President Obama promised us that if Congress passed his stimulus bill the unemployment rate wouldn’t rise above 8%.  Because million of people would go back to work immediately thanks to all of those shovel-ready jobs.  Well, the president signed it into law on February 17, 2009.  In October of that year the unemployment rate topped out at 10%.  And the president joked that those shovel-ready jobs weren’t as shovel-ready as they thought.  Still, they claimed it was a success.  And bragged about the millions of jobs they created or saved.  All the while the economy remained mired in one of the worst economic recoveries of all time (see Did Obama’s stimulus bill really work? Not even the gov’t knows by Sean Higgins posted 4/15/2013 on The Examiner).

Reason magazine’s Peter Suderman has a lengthy but eye-opening examination of President Obama’s 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act — aka the stimulus bill — and why even after spending $833 million through it the economy continues to suck.

The article is a top-to-bottom dissection that exposes the many layers of folly involved. Several passages stand out but this one in particular is worth noting because it points out the central flaw in reports that argue the stimulus was a success: There is literally no way to measure those claims.

“According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office,” says Recovery.gov, the Obama administration’s stimulus website, “the Recovery Act supported as many as 3.5 million jobs across the country.” As the stimulus ran its course over roughly three years, the capital’s top newspapers kept printing similar, supportive-sounding figures from the budget office. “CBO Says Stimulus May Have Added 3.3 Million Jobs,” a Washington Post headline trumpeted in 2010. “CBO: Stimulus Added Up to 3.3 million Jobs,” declared a Politico headline in 2011. Senate Democrats touted the estimates as proof of ARRA’s success. So did the vice president…

The CBO estimated that the stimulus created or saved up to 3.6 million jobs. But CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf has also noted that if the real-world results were different — if the law created 5 million jobs, or if it created none at all — the agency wouldn’t know. At a March 2010 presentation, Elmendorf characterized the CBO’s follow-up reports as “repeating the same exercises we did rather than an independent check.” At the same event, Elmendorf was asked, “If the stimulus bill did not do what it was originally forecast to do, then that would not have been detected by the subsequent analysis?” His response: “That’s right. That’s right.” (Emphasis added.)

You may not be able to measure how many jobs you saved but you sure can measure one thing.  The labor force participation rate.  The percentage of those who could be working who are actually working.  Which shows the true economic picture unlike the official unemployment rate.  Which just doesn’t count people if they leave the labor force.  Because they can’t find a job.  You see, for them to count you in the unemployment rate you have to be looking for work.  And if you gave up looking for work after a year or so of not finding work they don’t count you.  Which lowers the unemployment rate.  Even though more people are unemployed.

So how did the labor force participation rate respond to the stimulus bill?  Not good.  It suffered its steepest decline the year they passed the stimulus.  And continued in the longest and steepest free-fall during the Obama presidency.  These numbers show the stimulus was an abject failure.  And any talk contrary to this was nothing but wishful thinking.  Or outright lies.

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Despite President Obama’s Stimulus Bill Caterpillar hired Workers in China instead of U.S.

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 12th, 2012

Week in Review

Remember the Obama stimulus plan?  To pay for all those shovel-ready jobs?  And pull the economy from recession to robust economic growth?  That was going to save or create 3.5 million jobs?  President Obama even said that the Caterpillar CEO said he would start rehiring some of the 20,000 employees laid off recently if Congress passed the president’s stimulus bill.  Well, the Congress passed the president’s stimulus bill.  And it appeared Caterpillar did go on a hiring spree.  In China (see Caterpillar exporting China-made goods by Ernest Scheyder posted 8/8/2012 on Reuters).

Caterpillar Inc (CAT.N) has begun exporting Chinese-made machinery to the Middle East and Africa, part of a plan to offset a dip in China’s economic growth, a top official at the company said in an interview…

China’s economy has been pressured this year by a drop in its domestic property market and high inflation, with the economic growth rate slowing to 7.6 percent in the second quarter, the slowest pace in more than three years.

That is reflected in waning demand for the machinery Caterpillar makes at its 18 Chinese plants, and caused a glut of inventory.

How about that?  Caterpillar is building equipment in China to export to the Middle East and Africa.  Pity they didn’t build that equipment in the U.S. for export to the Middle East and Africa.  That would have added to the president’s ‘win’ column in creating jobs.  And he needs it.  For all the talk about the jobs he ‘saved’ or created his overall record since being president isn’t good.  According to The Washington Post there are fewer people working today than when he took office.  Making him a net destroyer of jobs.  Not a net creator of jobs.  Further proof that the president’s economic policies are a failure.

Guess the president’s state capitalism isn’t as good as the Chinese’s.

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LESSONS LEARNED #82: “Too much debt is always a bad thing.” – Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 8th, 2011

Thomas Jefferson hated Alexander Hamilton for his Assumption and Funding Plans 

Thomas Jefferson hated Alexander Hamilton.  For a variety of reasons.  He thought he was too cozy with the British.  And too anti-French.  He also thought Hamilton was too cozy with the merchant class and bankers.  Jefferson hated them, too.  For he thought honest Americans farmed.  Not buy and sell things other people made.  Or loaned money.

But Hamilton was not a bad guy.  And he was right.  George Washington, too.  America’s future was tied to the British.  Trade within their empire benefited the fledging American economy.  And the Royal Navy protected that trade.  For they ruled the seas.  They couldn’t get that from France.  Especially with a France waging war against everyone.

But there was something especially that Jefferson hated Hamilton for.  Assumption.  And funding.  The new nation’s finances were a mess.  No one could figure them out.  There was pre-war debt.  And war debt.  State debt.  And national debt.  The Americans owed their allies.  Neutral nations.  And the former enemy they just won their independence from.  Getting their hands around what they owed was difficult.  But important.  Because they needed to borrow more.  And without getting their finances in order, that wasn’t going to happen.

Thomas Jefferson Understood that a Permanent Debt gave a Government Power 

Hamilton was good with numbers.  And he put America’s financial house in order.  A little too well for Jefferson.  The new federal government assumed the states’ debts (assumption).  And serviced it (funding).  Giving great money and power to the federal government.  Far more than Jefferson believed the Constitution granted.  And this really stuck in his craw.  Because this was the source of all the mischief in the Old World.  Money and power.  The Old World capitals were both the seats of political power.  And the centers of commerce and banking.

Jefferson understood that a permanent debt gave a government a lot of power.  Because debt had to be serviced.  And you serviced debt with taxes.  The bigger the debt the greater the taxes.  Which didn’t sit well with this revolutionary.  I mean, excessive taxation was the cause for rebellion.  Taxes are bad.  And lead to political corruption.  Because the more taxes the government collects the more it can spend on political favors.  Patronage (good paying government jobs for political allies).  Giving rise to a politically-connected ruling class.  Like the Old World aristocracies.  Government grows.  As does their control over the private sector economy.

It’s a process that once started moves in only one direction.  Greater and greater debts.  Paid for by greater and greater taxes.  Until the debt becomes unsustainable.  Like in Revolutionary France.  In present day Greece.  And even in the United States.  Who, in 2011, saw its sovereign debt rating downgraded for the first time in American history.  Because of record deficits.  And record debt.  Caused by excessive spending.  Everything that Jefferson feared would happen.  If government had a permanent debt.

Baseline Budgeting guarantees Permanent Growth in Government Spending

Big Government spending took off in America in the Sixties.  Historically government receipts averaged 17.8% of GDP.  During the Fifties and the Sixties, GDP grew while debt remained flat.  Of course, if GDP grew then so did tax dollars coming into Washington.  For 17.8% of an expanding GDP produced an expanding pile of cash in the government’s coffers.

Liking the taste of this money, government kept spending.  So much so that they adopted baseline budgeting in 1974.  Where current spending is automatically added to for next year’s spending.  Guaranteeing permanent growth in government spending.  To pay for LBJ‘s Great Society.  The Vietnam WarApollo.  And other spending programs.  The spending was so out of control that the debt started to creep up.  And what they didn’t borrow they printed.  Leading to the Nixon Shock.

The Nixon Shock (ending the quasi gold standard) unleashed inflation.  Which Paul Volcker and Ronald Reagan defeated.  With inflation tamed and the Reagan tax cuts, the Eighties saw solid GDP growth.  And record deficits.  The Democrats liked all that cash coming into Washington.  And they spent it faster than it came in.  But to reduce the deficit they made a deal.  For each dollar in new taxes the Democrats would cut three dollars in spending.  Of course they lied.  Because Democrats don’t cut taxes.  They got their new taxes.  But Reagan didn’t get any spending cuts.  In fact, the deal went the other way.  For every dollar in new taxes there were three dollars in new spending.  The deficit grew bigger.  And for the first time the debt grew at a greater rate than GDP.  As shown here:

(Source:  GDP, Debt, Receipts)

The Obama Stimulus gave us Record Deficits and Record Debt

After the 1994 midterm elections, Bill Clinton and the new Republican House compromised.  They reined in spending.  Implemented welfare reform.  And rode the dot-com bubble on the good side.  Before it burst.  It was capital gains galore.  Put all of this together and GDP rose and flooded Washington with tax receipts.  While debt remained flat.  In fact, there were budget surpluses forecast.  But then that dot-com bubble burst.

George W. Bush started his presidency with recession.  A couple of tax cuts later and GDP was tracking up again.  But 9/11 changed things.  And gave us two costly wars (Iraq and Afghanistan).  On top of an expensive Medicare drug program.  Record deficits took debt to new heights.  Then the Housing Bubble burst.  Followed by the subprime mortgage crisis.  And President Obama used this crisis to advance a dormant Democrat agenda.

It was an $800 billion stimulus.  Something he promised would have no pork or earmarks.  Nothing but shovel-ready projects.  Of course, it was nothing but pork and earmarks.  And those shovel-ready projects?  There’s no such thing.  So the stimulus didn’t stimulate anything.  Other than record deficits (surpassing Bush’s).  And record debt.  Debt increasing at a greater rate than GDP.  And equal to or greater than GDP in dollars.  Not seen since World War II.

Hamilton and Jefferson would have United in Opposition against Barack Obama

Debt fell as a percentage of GDP following World War II.  It fell from above 90% to below 40% around the end of the Sixties.  GDP was rising during this period while debt remained flat.  So the flat debt became a smaller and smaller percentage of a growing GDP.  The ‘growing your way out of debt’ phenomenon.  But that process stopped and reversed itself during the Seventies.  When Congress spent with a fury.  As noted above.  Debt grew.  Back to the level of GDP it was during a world war.  Only now there is no world war.  And we’re not spending to save democracy.  We’re spending to end democracy.

(Source:  GDP, Debt $, Debt %)

It is what Jefferson feared most.  Out of control government spending.  Racking up massive debt.  The kind that is impossible to pay off.  And is permanent.  And it was being done not for a war to save democracy from fascism.  But to change America.  To make it a different kind of nation.  No longer one of limited government.  But Big Government.  One with a ruling class.  A ruling class that now has a claim on 100% of GDP.  To pay for everything they gave us.  Where there is no choice but fair-share sacrifice.  Where everyone pays their ‘fair share’ of taxes.  Which is government-speak for raising taxes on everyone.  To flood government coffers with more private sector wealth.

The country is not what it was.  And it will never be what it once was again.  Not with this level of spending.   This is the kind of spending nations see in their decline.  It’s what toppled Louis XVI.  It’s what roiled Greece in riots.  It’s what downgraded U.S. sovereign debt.  For the first time.  Even Alexander Hamilton wouldn’t approve of this.  For his Big Government idea was all about making the nation an economic superpower.  Not bringing back feudalism.

So if you’re not a fan of Barack Obama, here’s something you can credit him for.  His policies would have reconciled two of our most beloved Founding Fathers.  For Hamilton and Jefferson may have hated each other.  But they would have united in opposition against Barack Obama.

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Keynesian Policies are giving us Great Depression Unemployment with no Hope of Economic Recovery

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 4th, 2011

Real Unemployment is Greater than the Unemployment Rate for about half of the Great Depression 

The unemployment numbers are bad.  But few realize just how bad they are.  The real unemployment numbers.  Not the official unemployment rate released by the government (U-3).  Because that number doesn’t count a lot of people who can’t find a full time job (see Unemployed face tough competition: underemployed by Paul Wiseman and Christopher Leonard posted 9/4/2011 on the Associated Press).

America’s 14 million unemployed aren’t competing just with each other. They must also contend with 8.8 million other people not counted as unemployed – part-timers who want full-time work…

And the unemployed will face another source of competition once the economy improves: Roughly 2.6 million people who aren’t counted as unemployed because they’ve stopped looking for work. Once they start looking again, they’ll be classified as unemployed. And the unemployment rate could rise.

Combined, the 14 million officially unemployed; the “underemployed” part-timers who want full-time work; and “discouraged” people who have stopped looking make up 16.2 percent of working-age Americans…

If you look at the unemployment rate during the Great Depression (1929 to 1941), this more real rate (16.2%) is greater than the unemployment rate for about half of those years.  From 1932 until 1936, the rate was 23.53%, 24.75%, 21.60%, 19.97% and 16.80%.  After dropping down to 14.18% in 1937, it went back up to 18.91% in 1938.  It fell to 17.05% in 1939.  It was below 16.2% for only 6 years of the 13 years of the Great Depression.  So this 16.2% is bad.  Very, very bad.  And very, very real.

In a healthy economy, this broader measure of unemployment stays below 10 percent. Since the Great Recession officially ended more than two years ago, the rate has been 15 percent or more.

Even if you don’t use Great Depression standards this 16.2% is still very, very bad.

Eventually, lots of Americans…will start looking for jobs again. If those work-force dropouts had been counted as unemployed, August’s unemployment rate would have been 10.6 percent instead of 9.1 percent.

If it wasn’t for a counting gimmick to exclude long-term unemployed who gave up looking for work, the official unemployment rate would count all the unemployed.  And it would be 10.6%.  Not the ‘official’ 9.1% reported.  Of course, throw in the underemployed and it’s back up to 16.2%.

If Taxes and Regulations were Good for the Economy, we wouldn’t have Real Unemployment of 16.2%

No doubt the employment picture is far worse than the media has reported.  And that Recovery Summer was purely political propaganda.  To put a positive spin on some really wasteful ‘stimulus’ spending.  Spending that was more pork and earmarks than stimulative.  And President Obama is going to address a joint-session of Congress to tell us how he’s going to fix the economy.  No doubt urging more of the same that hasn’t worked thus far (see Cheney dismisses Obama’s jobs speech: ‘Don’t think it will get the job done’ by Vicki Needham posted 9/4/2011 on The Hill).

Former Vice President Dick Cheney suggested Sunday that the White House should adopt Reagan-era tax and regulatory policy to spur economic growth…

“The Obama administration is doing exactly the opposite, they’re loading on more regulation on the private sector in respect to how the economy functions,” he said.

They say if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  But if it is broke then we should probably fix it.  And based on the real unemployment numbers, the Obama policies are broke.  And need to be fixed.  And a good place to start would be to back off on all of their regulations.  And stop with the new taxes.  We know they’re bad for the economy.  For if they were good for it, we wouldn’t have a real unemployment rate of 16.2%.

President Obama will address a joint session of Congress on Thursday to outline a jobs plan likely to include a call for more infrastructure spending along with an extension of the payroll tax cuts, unemployment benefits and tax incentives for business to pick up hiring…

The president used his weekly address to push passage of an extension of the surface transportation bill to spur highway construction, bridge repair and the improvement of mass transit systems.

Haven’t we heard this message before?  Infrastructure spending?  As in ‘shovel-ready jobs’?  That was the whole point of the stimulus bill.  And being that we’re still talking about ‘infrastructure spending’, apparently it didn’t work.  So why return to a failed policy?

Infrastructure Stimulus Projects are like a Pill that Cures the Common Cold…in only 3 Weeks

Even Obama conceded there was no such thing as a ‘shovel-ready’ job.  Not with the regulatory red tape you have to go through before breaking ground.  Which costs millions of dollars.  So it’s not likely anyone spent millions of dollars over the years just in anticipation of a stimulus program.  Something unknown then that would pay for a project started without adequate funding.  Yeah, like that would ever happen.

But infrastructure work isn’t your everyday make-work kind of employment.  It takes skill.  And experience.  It’s not picking up trash along the side of the road that any unemployed person can do without extensive training (see Did the Stimulus Create Jobs? Not Always for the Unemployed by Megan McArdle posted 91/2011 on The Atlantic).

In the construction industry, there’s another wrinkle; many of the specialties in heavy construction are, at least as I understand it, not overfull with qualified applicants; finding young people who have the math skills and other academic talents necessary to be a modern skilled construction worker, and also want to skip college and apprentice with an outfit like the operating engineers, is something that a lot of the skilled trades worry about. 

I think a lot of people assumed that doing infrastructure construction projects would be a great way to soak up excess labor from the homebuilding industry, but there’s not actually that much overlap; knowing how to install drywall or do framing work does not qualify you for a job that requires sandhogs and specialty welders.  And it can take a long time to make journeyman in many of these professions.  This is also true of certain kinds of civil engineers and so forth. 

Cleary infrastructure projects are not the panacea the Obama administration thinks they are.  They are not ‘shovel-ready’ for the unemployed.  After years of regulatory compliance expenditures, highly skilled and highly specialized workers will break ground.  Which won’t employ a single person outside these specialties.  At least, not without years of training.  And working as an apprentice.  Which will be years down the road.  Which won’t stimulate anything in the here and now. 

This is like a pill that cures the common cold.  In only 3 weeks.  They have no effect.  And their ‘cure’ is purely illusionary.

The Era of Keynesian Big Government came to an End in 1980…for Awhile 

So we know what doesn’t work.  We know what policies are wrong.  Almost 3 years of Obama policies have told us that.  But it’s easy to point to failure.  To identify problems.  It’s a little more difficult to fix problems.  But the amazing thing is we don’t have to fix them.  We just have to stop causing them (see Free The Market by Peter Boettke posted 9/2/2011 on The European).

“The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design”, F.A. Hayk once wrote. We would we well-served to heed his call and reinvigorate the ideology of the free market.

There are a few schools of economics.  There’s the Keynesian school.  The majority of mainstream economists adhere to this.  As well as the Obama administration.  And then there is the Austrian school.  Which is more in keeping with economists like F.A. Hayek and Adam Smith

The Keynesians want hands-on government control and spending.  The Austrian school doesn’t.  Because they don’t think they are better and smarter than the average consumer.

The past thirty years proved the validity of Adam Smith’s assertion, “The natural effort of every individual to better his own condition…is so powerful, that it is alone, and without any assistance, not only capable of carrying on the society to wealth and prosperity, but of surmounting a hundred impertinent obstructions with which the folly of human laws too often encumbers its operations.”

During “the age of Milton Friedman”, as Andrei Shleifer dubed it, key developments in economic freedom—deregulation in the US and UK, the collapse of communism in East and Central Europe, and the opening up of the economies of China and India—allowed individuals to surmount government meddling in the economy. From 1980 to 2005, there were marked, world-wide improvements in life expectancy, education, democracy, and living standards as integration into a world economy delivered billions of individuals from poverty, ignorance and squalor.

From 1980?  You know what happened at that time?  The era of Keynesian Big Government came to an end.  For awhile.  With the rise of Margaret Thatcher in the UK.  And the rise of Ronald Reagan in the USA.  Both were adherents to the Austrian school.  And because of that their nations exploded with prosperity.  Thanks to tax cuts.  And deregulation. 

Unfortunately, this began to reverse course around 2005.  Big Government began to return.  And it’s becoming bigger than it ever was.  We see this in declining Western economies.  And financial crises in these same Western economies (in Europe and the United States).  As they are imploding under excessive government spending.  And debt.

A setting of private property rights, free pricing, and accurate profit and loss accounting aligns incentives and communicates information so that individuals realize the mutual gains from trade with one another. Efficient markets are an outcome of a process of discovery, learning, and adjustment, not an assumption going into the analysis. That process, however, operates within political, legal, and social institutions. Those institutions can promulgate policies that block discovery, inhibit learning, and prevent adjustment, causing the market to operate poorly.

So rather than free market ideology being obsolete, what is needed is a reinvigorated ideological vision of the free market economy: a society of free and responsible individuals who have the opportunity to prosper in a market economy based on profit and loss and to live in caring communities. Yes, caring communities. The Adam Smith that wrote The Wealth of Nations also wrote The Theory of Moral Sentiments, and the F. A. Hayek that wrote Individualism and Economic Order also wrote about the corruption of morals in The Fatal Conceit. Our challenge today is to embrace the full scope of free market ideology so as to understand the preconditions under which we can live better together in a world of peace, prosperity, and progress.

Get government out of the private sector.  Let the private sector respond freely to market forces.  Be responsible.  And be kind to others.  Like they told us in kindergarten.

Keynesians don’t like the Masses, they just want to Rule over Them

Anyone looking objectively at the economy can see where the problem lies.  With government.  Their policies didn’t work in the Seventies.  And they’re not working now.  So why are they returning to failed policies of the past?  Because Keynesian policies grow government.  And those in government want to grow government.  For the money and the power.  And to stroke their egos. 

Keynesians are academics.  They have little real-life experience.  They didn’t run businesses.  Make payrolls.  They didn’t sell.  Or live on the other side of regulatory compliance.  Why?  Because they aren’t entrepreneurs.  They don’t have the ability to be creative.  So they elevate themselves above those who are.  To compensate for their inadequacies. 

They prefer privilege.  Entitlement.  Like the aristocracy in the Old World.  Where a good last name was all you needed for wealth and power. 

Just listen to them talk.  Their very words drip with condescension.  They don’t like the masses.  They don’t live with them.  They don’t vacation with them.  They don’t want to have anything to do with them.  Except to rule over them.  The way it should be.  In their world of privilege.

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