Wednesday, January 27, 2010

One dodo's take on the brilliance that is Joe Klein

Do you think that some of the money that was allocated in last spring's stimulus bill might have been wasted?

If so, you're an idiot. A dodo. You are too stupid to understand the awesomeness that is Barack Obama and the blessings that he has bestowed upon you.

At least, that's what Joe Klein says:
Absolutely amazing poll results from CNN today about the $787 [sic] stimulus package: nearly three out of four Americans think the money has been wasted. On second thought, they may be right: it's been wasted on them. Indeed, the largest single item in the package--$288 billion--is tax relief for 95% of the American public. This money is that magical $60 to $80 per month you've been finding in your paycheck since last spring. Not a life changing amount, but helpful in paying the bills.
A few comments, Joe. (May I call you Joe?) First, that's some nice paternalism you've got going on there. Those of us who don't live in the center of the universe, Washington, DC, sure are lucky to have you there watching out for our interests. I must confess, however, that I'm a little bit less impressed with you and your position than you are.

  • The stimulus bill was for $787 Billion, not $787. Typo, I know, but it's still sitting there 24 hours later. It's the kind of thing that might strike people's sense of irony, as you're berating their stupidity. Even those of us out in the hinterlands (sorry - make that "flyover country") understand the difference between a dollar and a billion of them.
  • For one of them nuanced fellers, you appear to have misunderstood the poll results. (Or you're intentionally mischaracterizing them with a somewhat less-than-nuanced presentation.) If you look at the questions asked, you'll see that only about 21% of the respondents think that "nearly all" has been wasted. About 50% think that significantly more than half of it has been wasted, and the "nearly three out of four" includes 29% that thinks that "about half" has been wasted. So your characterization of the results is, to be charitable, uncharitable towards your fellow citizens.
  • The next point that I'd like to make is that that wasn't the only question in the poll. Prior to being asked how much of the money spent thus far had been wasted, the respondents were asked, "Do you think that the projects that the government has spent money on under that bill have mostly been useful projects that will benefit the economy, or have mostly been projects that were included in the bill for purely political reasons and will have no economic impact?" 63% think that projects have been primarily political in nature. Logically, the answer to the next question is going to be that the money was wasted.
  • Of course, we haven't yet gotten to the question-begging assumption that the money has not been wasted. Let's remember how the administration sold the stimulus, and what the effect has been. They stood up and declared to the American people that if they didn't spend all of this money, unemployment might reach 9%, so it was a national emergency.
    If nothing is done, this recession could linger for years. The unemployment rate could reach double digits. ...There is no doubt that the cost of this plan will be considerable. It will certainly add to the budget deficit in the short-term. But equally certain are the consequences of doing too little or nothing at all, for that will lead to an even greater deficit of jobs, incomes, and confidence in our economy...That work begins with this plan – a plan I am confident will save or create at least three million jobs over the next few years. It is not just another public works program...Our government has already spent a good deal of money, but we haven't yet seen that translate into more jobs or higher incomes or renewed confidence in our economy. That's why the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan won't just throw money at our problems – we'll invest in what works...I urge Congress to move as quickly as possible on behalf of the American people. For every day we wait or point fingers or drag our feet, more Americans will lose their jobs. More families will lose their savings. More dreams will be deferred and denied. And our nation will sink deeper into a crisis that, at some point, we may not be able to reverse...It will not come easy or happen overnight, and it is altogether likely that things may get worse before they get better. But that is all the more reason for Congress to act without delay. I know the scale of this plan is unprecedented, but so is the severity of our situation. We have already tried the wait-and-see approach to our problems, and it is the same approach that helped lead us to this day of reckoning.
    - Barack Obama
    So what's happened to unemployment?

    Right. Clearly $787 Billion well spent...
  • If that's not enough, Joe, to make you think that maybe, just maybe some of that stimulus spending wasn't as productive as it could have been, consider the following analogy. I've got a house, and my roof is leaking. But I'm already in debt, my credit cards are maxed out, etc. So I go off to my friendly banker (and let's ground the analogy, a bit, by making my banker Chinese) and beg for a loan. Which he gives me. And I go out and buy a new television, because mine was old and standard def and Best Buy's having an awesome sale. And I take my family out to eat at a restaurant that isn't really upscale, per se, but is more expensive than Wendy's. And we do that a couple of times, go out to the movies, buy a couple of DVDs that we don't need, and all of a sudden, the money's gone. And the leak in my roof is getting worse.

    If my wife and kids started bemoaning the fact that I'd wasted the money, should I berate them for their stupidity? "Hey, we've got this great television, and we had to eat, didn't we?"

    That, Joe, is the equivalent of the stimulus bill. We've borrowed money that must be repaid and haven't used it to fix the problem we borrowed the money to fix - indeed, it's made the problem worse. It's surely not inconceivable that some might look on that as "wasteful" spending.
  • A quick look at suggests that in my state, Massachusetts, the stimulus bill has made 3860 awards totaling $3,884,242,219. And those funds have "created or saved" 12,367.73 jobs.

    I may be a dodo, but I was well-trained in school, and I can do long division, double-check it with a calculator, triple-check it with a calculator, and see that that works out to $314,062.47 per job.

    You're going to have to do a lot of tap-dancing to convince me that the money hasn't been mostly wasted...

So, two thoughts:

1. The Obama Administration has done a terrible job explaining the stimulus package to the American people...especially since there have been very few documented cases of waste so far.

2. This is yet further evidence that Americans are flagrantly ill-informed...and, for those watching Fox News, misinformed.
Here's a third option, Joe, that might be both more charitable and fairer to your fellow citizens - the people have heard and understood the explanations, they understand what the impact of the bill has been, and they still think that the spending was wasteful...

It is very difficult to have a democracy without citizens. It is impossible to be a citizen if you don't make an effort to understand the most basic activities of your government. It is very difficult to thrive in an increasingly competitive world if you're a nation of dodos.
There is, unfortunately, some compelling evidence that we're a nation of dodos. Harry Reid's the leader of the Senate, Nancy Pelosi's the Speaker of the House and Barack Obama's the President of the United States.

But the fact that people are recognizing the Porkulus bill has wasted money is certainly a step in the right direction...

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