Taking up the challenge

Yesterday, I posed a question accompanied by some charts, responding to the Republican talking point that President Obama made the economy “worse” through measures like the Recovery Act. I noted that the job market was in freefall, then the stimulus passed, then the job market improved.

The question is, how does the right perceive these developments? After all, here was a Democratic president spending lots of money, increasing the deficit, and ignoring the debt. By Republican logic, this should have necessarily made the job market much worse, when it in reality, it made the job market much better. So, how do conservatives explain this?

I received quite a bit of feedback on this, and I thought I’d share some of the more articulate emails I received from those who disagreed with me.

E.M. argued:

I reject the premise in your article that Republicans believe that Obama’s stimulus made the job losses per month “worse.” I’m confident that what Romney and others meant is that the stimulus made matters worse than they would have been had the stimulus not been enacted..

Regrettably, this is plainly false. As noted in some of the links I included in my post, several prominent Republican lawmakers and candidates have argued repeatedly that the stimulus was directly responsible for making the economy “worse.”

D.W. argued:

Leading political economists have surmised that the most accurate lag for the effects of macroeconomic policies by government is one year.

This one happens to my favorite. Sure, the job market improved in 2009 after the stimulus began, but Bush’s policies from 2008 deserve the credit. The phrase “beyond parody” comes to mind.

K.D. argued:

Was that a serious article or were you joking? Would you like to compare your job numbers against previous recessions? … Job growth coming out of recessions is historically much, much stronger.

This one is true! Job growth coming out of other recent recessions really has been much stronger. The difference, though, is that this was a different kind of recession, which was much more severe. What’s more, it doesn’t answer my question: why did more spending and a larger deficit make things better?

And D.M. argued:

[Y]es, you borrow and spend a lot of money, people get jobs. The problem is: it doesn’t work over time. Over time, we run up more debt than we fix.

Now either you can say, like Krugman, that we didn’t do it the “right” way — that we should have spent even more, and should keep spending, or you say something like other left-leaning economists, which is the theory is correct but the application is flawed.

Doesn’t matter. We’re out of cash. Even if you had a Congress that voted a bunch more spending, we’d just go broke.

This one is interesting for two reasons. The first is that it seems to concede that stimulus really will improve the job market. That’s a helpful concession given much of the rhetoric on the right.

The second is that we’re really not broke, and aren’t anywhere close to going broke. On the contrary, we can borrow lots of money at low interest rates right now, invest it in job creation, and improve the economy. Indeed, even if fiscal considerations were someone’s top goal, the surest way to cut the deficit in a hurry is to grow the economy and put more Americans back to work.

Update: I neglected to mention that several folks argued that the positive trend didn’t last — the stimulus spending waned and the job market deteriorated again. There are a variety of reasons for the 2010 downturn and today’s ongoing struggles, but I’m not sure why the right would find this argument compelling. If anything, it helps prove my point: more deficit spending made things better, less deficit spending made things worse. Shouldn’t that translate to calls for additional spending?