The result really wasn't all that surprising. The reaction
wasn't either. On Thursday morning the Commerce Department released
its advance GDP reading and proclaimed the end of the recession by
asserting the American economy 'grew' at an annualized rate of 3.5%
in the third quarter. A previous commentary already pointed out the
fact that government borrowing shouldn't be counted in GDP
calculations anyway, so I'll not repeat that exercise. Certainly
there isn't much to say on this topic that hasn't already been
said. However, there are some salient points that have been glossed
over that are worth mentioning.
Cost vs. Price
It would probably be rather hard to find a single American that
didn't know the price tag of the stimulus bill. $787 billion has
been included in nearly every news piece regarding the topic. What
most people are not aware of, however, is that $787 billion only
represents that amount of money actually put into the economy by
the feds. It comes nowhere near addressing the actual
of the program. A good recent example of this miracle of government
accounting is the Medicare part D prescription benefit program. The
price tag was $394 billion, but the cost is much higher - around
$8.7 trillion and counting depending on which numbers you want to
use. Granted this represents the net present value of the cost of
these ongoing benefits over a 75-year period, but you get the
Fortunately for taxpayers, the stimulus package is not an
ongoing expenditure (yet), and as such consists of predefined
outlays. Despite this, the total cost of the bill as compiled by
the Congressional Budget Office is approximately $3.27 trillion.
Amazing in this is the fact that we'll pay nearly as much for debt
service on the stimulus bill ($744 billion) as the measure was
supposed to provide to the economy! Talk about sticker shock. The
gory details are
The question now becomes one of return on investment. What
exactly are we going to get for our $3.27 trillion? It had better
be good too, because nearly all of it is borrowed from someone -
either foreigners or the Fed. Unfortunately, such is not the case.
Using the $3.27 trillion projected cost, the ROI for the stimulus
bill stands at a whopping -415%. In the private sector, such a
revelation would result in a project being killed instantly in the
concept phase. Not so in the hallowed halls of Congress where the
laws of economics and common sense do not apply.
A Good Deal for Taxpayers?
We have been assured in almost doublespeak fashion that the
stimulus bill was necessary, and was in fact, a good deal for the
American taxpayer and would create or save millions of jobs. The
ballyhooed cash for clunkers program deemed such a success ended up
costing taxpayers around $24,000 for every car sold under the
program. This when the actual benefit to the buyer was only $4,500.
Some other examples, courtesy of AP, include:
- A company working with the Federal Communications Commission
reported that stimulus money paid for 4,231 jobs, when about
1,000 were produced.
- A Georgia community college reported creating 280 jobs with
recovery money, but none was created from stimulus spending.
- A Florida childcare center said its stimulus money saved 129
jobs but used the money on raises for existing employees.
One disconcerting admission in the past week came from Christine
Romer, the head of the Council of Economic Advisors. She stated
that the largest impact from the stimulus had already been felt and
that moving forward, the stimulus would only serve to prevent the
economy from slipping further rather than contributing to any
growth. Sounds like a recovery eh? It would sound as if Ms. Romer
is already laying the groundwork for the next brainchild of
economic ignorance: Stimulus - The Sequel. Here are her quotes:
"By mid-2010," she said, "fiscal stimulus will likely be
contributing little to further growth."
"While job losses will likely end early next year, robust job
gains may still be several quarters away,"
"This is not a normal recovery, Coming out of this, we've got
lots of things working against us."
Like the laws of economics for starters?
What also must be noted is that the federal deficit alone for FY
2009, which doesn't include net present value of unfunded
liabilities, was $1.4 trillion. The fact that such a large sum of
money had to be spent to prevent an all-out collapse of the US
economy should be alarming to anyone with a pulse. The fact that
current projections are for $1 trillion plus deficits annually for
the next ten years should curl your eyebrows.
Let's assume for a minute that Ms. Romer is correct and that
we've seen all the bounce we're going to get from the stimulus.
According to AP, the number of jobs created directly by stimulus
spending was around 25,000. Sure, there are probably some others
that slipped through the cracks and it is very likely that some
firms held off on layoffs because of the temporary burst of cash.
But let's look at the cost of those jobs JUST in terms of the debt
service created by the stimulus bill. Each of the 25,000 jobs
created cost the taxpayer $29,600,000 in debt service alone.
Keep in mind that unemployment has been going up constantly
during the time when we were getting the maximum 'benefits' from
the stimulus. As soon as the money wears off, firms will fall back
on their original plans, which include cutting back on staff.
Another stimulus package will be needed - and soon - to stave off
the infamous double dip that many economists and commentators have
long been forecasting. The proverb that a house built on a rock
will weather any storm, but one built on sand will certainly
collapse rings very true in our current state of affairs.
The real question that needs to be posed to anyone supporting
additional foolish stimulus needs to focus on an exit strategy. How
will additional stimulus create a foundation for fundamental,
healthy economic growth? The short answer is that it won't, but
let's make them answer anyway.
Challenging Week Coming for U.S. Treasury