Donald Lambro

Cogan is not alone in thinking that old-style, New Deal, Keynesian pump-priming will be rife with waste as lawmakers stuff all kinds of pork into a stimulus bill before it leaves the station.

Even some liberal economists have their doubts about whether very much money can get into the economy if the recession is over by mid-2009.

"If this thing turns out to be (a smaller) downturn, we wasted some money but it's not the end of the world," said economist William Gale, vice president of the liberal Brookings Institution.

But Gale argues that, long or short, "we are in an extremely sluggish economy and, as Barack Obama says, we need a big jolt."

Still, he adds, "I have not been a big fan of stimulus packages. I think they open the door to a lot of political chicanery. There's an enormous potential for (spending) abuse."

And, like Cogan, he wonders how so much money can be shoveled out fast enough to have an immediate impact on the economy.

"It's hard to figure out how they are going to spend $500 billion or $700 billion and how they are going to spend it quickly," he told me.

Obama fashions himself as a latter-day FDR who will take office in the midst of an economic meltdown and plow huge amounts of money into hundreds of projects on every governor's wish list. Lately, he has been comparing his spending plan to President Eisenhower's interstate-highway program.

But even a cursory look at the data in the last half of the 1950s shows continued anemic growth in the ensuring years (with a one-year growth spurt in 1959), even as highway construction was being ramped up into the billions of dollars.

The same can be said for the kind of middle-class tax rebates that Obama is expected to add to his stimulus spending bill.

"Tax rebates don't work because people save the money. We've done this several times, in 1974, 2001 and earlier this year. There is just zero evidence that rebates stimulate," said economist Bruce Bartlett, who has been studying past rebate efforts.

What does get the economy going? Policies that encourage work, savings and entrepreneurial capital investment and risk-taking. Who says so? Why, none other than Jason Furman.

"The key to long-run economic growth is higher saving and investment to increase the capital stock and thus the productive capacity of the economy," he said in the January strategy paper.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.