2. The bailouts of GM and Chrysler
3. The Public-Private Investment Partnership to buy toxic assets from banks.
4. Cash for Clunkers
5. The Home Buyers Credit
6. Deficits which increased, in four years, the federal debt another $5 trillion
7. Five versions of foreclosure relief
8. Energy subsidies
I think that Republicans can accurately point to a general expansion of government under Obama, the creation of an uncertain business climate, the failure of a green energy policy, and a distribution of stimulus money aimed at Democratic Congressional districts.
But despite the above criticisms, economists disagree widely on whether the recession was alleviated by the stimulus spending or whether the United States threw money down the drain and only put itself deeper in debt. Here, as a voter with little technical expertise in economics, I am at the mercy of expert opinion, which goes in all different directions. An article which shows the almost impossible complexities of the issue appeared in the Washington Post and reviewed several studies; six said the stimulus helped, three said it mainly did not:
Did the Stimulus Work? A Review of 9 studies
Many commentators, even on the left, believe the stimulus was poorly designed. Stimulus packages stimulate when people spend the money they are given, but in-debt and worried Americans saved about 30% of it, or paid off debt. The trouble with social engineering is that people often don't act the way that policy-makers and bureaucrats expect them to. (Policy makers should all have to read Notes from Underground a couple of times a year.) The solution of people like Joseph Stiglitz, Paul Krugman, and Bill Bradley (see his book, We Can All Do Better) is to pump another stimulus into the economy, about as big as the last one, which they feel was inadequate. Maybe people would spend the money this time--or maybe they wouldn't. The problem of individuals who have suddenly become financially responsible extends to corporations as well, who trust the business climate so little they are sitting on about $1.5 trillion rather than investing it and hiring people. So go the best laid plans of Keynsians and the Federal Reserve . . .
What about Cash for Clunkers and the rest? Some analysts say Clunkers generated car sales, and others that it just moved them ahead a couple of months. There is disagreement among economists on most of what Obama did.
With brilliant economists in disagreement, but divided along clear party lines, the responsible voter doesn't get much help, despite hours of reading. All the claims, by both parties, to know what they are doing are cast into deep suspicion as one gets into the basic data and what various professors make out of it--Chicago and Harvard liberals taking one stance, Stanford Hooverians another. The claims and the charges at the national conventions become absurdly over-confident when seen against the pattern of complexity and uncertainty that really exists.
Lets say that on this one Obama gets a pass, barely. His programs may have alleviated some unemployment, but whether they were worth the money that eventually will have to be paid is hard to say.
The following interview of Joseph Stiglitz is interesting as an appendix to the above. He identifies the weaknesses in the Obama stimulus, and forges into the unknown with great confidence: