Today is the first birthday of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and The New York Times' David Leonhardt has a salute to the original $787 billion stimulus package:
Just look at the outside evaluations of the stimulus. Perhaps the best-known economic research firms are IHS Global Insight, Macroeconomic Advisers and Moody's Economy.com. They all estimate that the bill has added 1.6 million to 1.8 million jobs so far and that its ultimate impact will be roughly 2.5 million jobs. The Congressional Budget Office, an independent agency, considers these estimates to be conservative.
Yet I'm guessing you don't think of the stimulus bill as a big success. You've read columns (by me, for example) complaining that it should have spent money more quickly. Or you've heard about the phantom ZIP code scandal: the fact that a government Web site mistakenly reported money being spent in nonexistent ZIP codes.
And many of the criticisms are valid. The program has had its flaws. But the attention they have received is wildly disproportionate to their importance. To hark back to another big government program, it's almost as if the lasting image of the lunar space program was Apollo 6, an unmanned 1968 mission that had engine problems, and not Apollo 11, the moon landing.
The White House has been flogging Leohnardt's column, with press secretary Robert Gibbs offering a chilling nightmare vision of a non-stimulated world featuring two million additional Americans "who'd be unemployed right now."
I am more-than-temperamentally skeptical of anything coming out of Moody's, but IHS Global Insight has been fairly accurate in its assessments of the stimulus. And Leonhardt's a smart guy, and it's ARRA's first birthday, so why be a party pooper? If there's a case to be made for the stimulus, Leonhardt has made it.
But after a year of watching administration officials highball-then-lowball unemployment estimates (a practice Gibbs continues in the tweet quoted above), fictionalize job creation numbers, pull stats and locations out of thin air, and coin the absurd "saved or created" phrase (now trumped by the even lamer "funded"), it's going to take more than a column in the Times to make the stimulus look like anything other than Apollo 1.