Trust us, it’s working

Vice President Joe Biden marked the 200-day anniversary of the administration’s “stimulus” package with a speech at the Brookings Institution Thursday, in which he spent nearly an hour ticking off the supposed achievements of the spending binge, to date.

Among other things, Mr. Biden said some unnamed economists have given the $787 billion stimulus bill credit for creating 500,000 to 750,000 jobs and boosting the gross domestic product in the two most recent quarters.

In fact, when the Commerce Department got around to releasing its numbers the next day, the nationwide unemployment rate had jumped to 9.7 percent in August, the highest since June 1983, as employers eliminated 216,000 more jobs.

Yes, the level of monthly job cuts was the lowest in a year. But the rate was still higher than expected. So the only way Mr. Biden can claim the big pork bill has “created” jobs is to claim that nation would have lost 600,000 more jobs without it.

Specifically, Mr. Biden said the stimulus helped states save 135,000 government-school jobs and 5,000 law enforcement jobs.

Maybe. And did the taxes imposed on businesses to keep funding those government jobs — with their ballooning pay and benefits — cause some of those businesses to close and lay off their workers?

Mr. Biden said skeptics early on predicted the stimulus might be derailed by stories of wasteful spending — “millions of dollars spent on polar bear tanks,” is one example he gave. “That dog didn’t bite,” he said, meaning those stories haven’t come true.

Actually, reporting for ProPublica Friday, Christopher Flavelle and Amanda Michel report “The government did allocate millions of stimulus dollars for tiger and lion cages at the National Zoo, as we reported in May. And the Florida Department of Transportation got $3.4 million to build tunnels for migrating turtles — a project … held up by Republicans as just the kind of wasteful-spending story the vice president wanted to avoid.”

Last week, meantime, The Associated Press reported some of the country’s busiest border checkpoints are getting no stimulus money, while small checkpoints handling fewer than 60 people per day have been allocated millions of dollars — in Montana and North Dakota, which have powerful Democratic senators.

According to Mr. Biden, one of the main goals of the Recovery Act was to “bring relief to those hardest hit by the recession.” But ProPublica reported last month that a county-by-county breakdown of contracts, grants and loans showed no relationship between where the stimulus money is going and either unemployment or poverty.

Leaving aside how the bills will be paid — whether through taxation or inflation — the main question is whether the policies of the Obama administration to date have sped along a real correction to the misallocation of resources, or tended to delay and sidetrack any such real correction.

On that question, Mr. Biden offered us little useful guidance.

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