Stimulus Nation: What Are We Getting for Our $3.27 Trillion?

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Andy Sutton submits:

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 cost 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 idea.

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 here .

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:

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.

See also Challenging Week Coming for U.S. Treasury Market on

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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