Falling Short on the Economic Stimulus: We Are Live at the Wall Street Journal...
Senator-to-Be Scott Brown and Health Care Reform

Marty Feldstein's Take on Obama's First Year

Paired with my article:

What's Wrong With the Economy: Unlike previous recessions, the current downturn was not caused by Federal Reserve tightening and therefore couldn't be reversed by lowering interest rates. President Obama was correct to conclude that boosting economic activity required a fiscal stimulus. Unfortunately, despite the talented team of economists in the administration, most of the president's economic policies have done little to help the problem. And indeed, many of these policies have created even more problems than they solved.

For starters, the president allowed congressional Democrats to design the $787 billion stimulus package. The result was an unnecessarily large increase in the national debt for a very modest rise in gross domestic product.... Only about one-fourth of the nearly $800 billion will be used for government spending that adds directly to GDP. In contrast, the funds given to households will be largely saved or used to pay down existing debts. And the dollars that went to state governments relieved pressure to use their "rainy day" funds or levy temporary tax increases...

[This last seems to me to be wrong: the "rainy day" funds are wrong--and temporary state tax increases or further spending cuts would have been even more damaging to the economy: Fifty little Herbert Hoovers, after all...]

Congress and the president could have gotten more stimulus from accelerating the repairing and replacing of equipment in the civilian and defense sectors.... Other programs by the administration have had similar failings. "Cash for clunkers," for instance, was successful in raising auto buying and gave a temporary boost to GDP, since two-thirds of the third-quarter GDP rise was motor-vehicle production. The credit for first-time home buyers also gave a temporary boost to the housing market. But both programs just borrowed demand from the future....

Local banks around the country have cut back business lending because they fear future losses on existing real-estate loans. The administration's plan to prevent mortgage defaults by helping millions of homeowners reduce their monthly mortgage payments fizzled down to helping just a few hundred thousand. Moreover, nothing was done to reduce the incentive to default among the 15 million homeowners whose mortgages now exceed the value of their homes. And nothing has been done to deal with the $1.5 trillion of distressed commercial real-estate loans that will have to be rolled over during the next five years. The administration's plan to induce local banks to sell impaired loans to nonbank investors so that they could start lending again was well intentioned. But it failed, despite generous proposed subsidies, because banks don't want to reduce their accounting capital.

Although solving the banking and real-estate problem is key to recovery, the president's focus on his health legislation and the public's concern about future deficits appears to have stopped him from dealing with these problems...

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