‘Jobs Created or Saved’ Is White House Fantasy: Caroline Baum Share Business Exchange
Commentary by Caroline Baum
Oct. 28 (Bloomberg) -- Heresy, thy name is Christina Romer.
Last week, the chairman of President Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers -- a position that carried the title “chief economist” until Larry Summers took up residence in the White House -- testified to the Joint Economic Committee on the economic crisis and the efficacy of the policy response.
Here’s the executive summary in case you missed it:
The crisis: “Inherited.”
The economy: “In terrible shape” (the inherited one).
The shocks to the system: “Larger than those that precipitated the Great Depression.”
The policy response: “Strong and timely.”
The efficacy of the policy response: a 2 to 3 percentage point addition to second-quarter growth; 3 to 4 percentage points in the third; and 160,000 to 1.5 million “jobs saved or created,” a made-up metric if there ever was one. (More on that later.)
What was most puzzling about Romer’s Oct. 22 testimony was her comment on the waning effect of fiscal stimulus.
“Most analysts predict that the fiscal stimulus will have its greatest impact on growth in the second and third quarters of 2009,” Romer said. “By mid-2010, fiscal stimulus will likely be contributing little to growth.”
At first it was just fringe elements, such as conservative blogs and the not-really-a-news-organization Fox News, that pounced on Romer’s statement. Then other news outlets started to question her statement, which seemed to fly in the face of White House assertions that only a small portion of the stimulus -- $120 billion, or 15 percent -- has actually been spent. Most of the criticism of the stimulus coming from the president’s own party has been, “too little, too late,” and here’s Romer saying it’s kaput.
Thanks for That
Instead of being banished to the woodshed, Romer was consigned to the White House blog, where she slipped into professorial mode to explain the arcane distinction between the effect of the stimulus on the change in gross domestic product and its effect on the level of GDP.
Stimulus has its biggest impact on the growth rate of GDP when it’s implemented, Romer said, using a car-and-driver analogy: Step on the accelerator, the car goes from zero to 60.
Stimulus will keep the level of GDP and employment higher than they would have been even after the growth-rate effect fades, she said.