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Wanted: Personal Economic Trainers. Apply at Capitol.
In the next day's Journal, Coburn won additional support for his theory that public-sector employment and output is less worthy than private-sector output from columnist Daniel Henninger. Henninger weighed in with his own list of horror stories from the stimulus bill, including $325 million for trail repair and remediation of abandoned mines on federal lands, $6 billion to reduce the carbon footprint of federal buildings and -- get this! -- $462 million to equip, construct and repair labs at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"What is most striking is how much 'stimulus' money is being spent on the government's own infrastructure," wrote Henninger. "This bill isn't economic stimulus. It's self-stimulus."
Actually, what's striking is that supposedly intelligent people are horrified at the thought that, during a deep recession, government might try to help the economy by buying up-to-date equipment for the people who protect us from epidemics and infectious diseases, by hiring people to repair environmental damage on federal lands and by contracting with private companies to make federal buildings more energy-efficient.
What really irks so many Republicans, of course, is that all the stimulus money isn't being used to cut individual and business taxes, their cure-all for economic ailments, even though all the credible evidence is that tax cuts are only about half as stimulative as direct government spending.
Many, including John McCain, lined up this week to support a proposal to make the sales tax and interest payments on any new car purchased over the next two years tax-deductible, along with a $15,000 tax credit on a home purchase. These tax credits make for great sound-bites and are music to the ears of politically active car salesmen and real estate brokers. Most economists, however, have warned that such credits will have limited impact at a time when house prices are still falling sharply and consumers are worried about their jobs and their shrinking retirement accounts. Even worse, they wind up wasting a lot of money because they give windfalls to millions of people who would have bought cars and houses anyway.
What adds insults to injury, however, is that many of the senators who supported these tax breaks then turned around and opposed as "boondoggles" much more cost-effective proposals to stimulate auto and housing sales, such as having the government replace its current fleet of cars with hybrids or giving money to local housing authorities to buy up foreclosed properties for use as low-income rental housing.
Personal economic trainers would confirm all this. Until they're on board, however, here's a little crib sheet on stimulus economics:
Spending is stimulus, no matter what it's for and who does it. The best spending is that which creates jobs and economic activity now, has big payoffs later and disappears from future budgets.