Today, Speaker Boehner promoted a statistic concocted by the Weekly Standard claiming that President Obama’s Recovery Act (aka “the stimulus”) cost $278,000 per job. The stat is simply the overall cost of the Recovery Act, both the government spending and the tax cuts, divided by a low-end estimate of the jobs created or saved by ending the economic free-fall of late 2008 and early 2009.
This first struck me as a rare admission by a Republican that the stimulus created any jobs at all.
But I’m sure the tacit acknowledgment isn’t weighing on conservative minds, because the idea behind this “stat” isn’t to be intellectually consistent. It’s to bolster the claim that government spending is an inherently inefficient way to create jobs.
The White House quickly pushed back with the basic reason why the stat is bogus: the Recovery Act wasn’t only about creating jobs, but also to invest in American infrastructure, education and energy and lay a foundation for long-term prosperity. Further, the Recovery Act wasn’t only made up of government spending to directly create jobs, but also, as conservatives typically neglect to mention, tax cuts for most Americans to mitigate the drop in demand caused by the recession.
All true, yet easily dismissed by conservatives as mere excuses as they seek to delegitimize the whole concept of active government among a public starving for more jobs.
If the balanced approach of the Recovery Act isn’t good enough, what’s the conservative response to the lingering jobs crisis? The conservative response to everything: more tax cuts.
We did try that recently. Let’s apply the Boehner Math test and see how it worked.
* The estimated cost of the Bush tax cuts through 2008 was $1.5 trillion.
* Using Boehner’s Math and a trusty handheld calculator, and you end up with
$500,000 per job.
Almost double the cost of Obama’s stimulus.
And in the case of the Bush tax cuts, the Boehner Math test is more revelant. There really wasn’t any other economic argument to justify the cost of tax cuts heavily skewed to benefit millionaires and billionaires besides the promise of robust job growth.
One can certainly argue that the Recovery Act was not sufficient to bring about a robust recovery, even if it likely prevented a global depression.
But considering that the Bush tax cuts completely flunk the Boehner Math test, perhaps government spending is not what ails the Obama Recovery Act.