While in high school, I was standing at a bus stop next to a gas station. A kid tossed a candy wrapper on the station lot. Somebody yelled, "Hey, pick that up." The kid, with a straight face, defended himself. He said, "I just created a job." Someone would be hired, he explained, to pick up the trash, and this would be good for the economy.
Don't laugh. The kid probably works for the Obama administration.
Congress is now considering yet another "stimulus" package. But did the administration's previous one work? Of the $787 billion stimulus package, President Obama said it would "save or create" 3.5 million new jobs. Has it?
The National Association for Business Economics polled 68 private-sector members. Seventy-three percent said the employment at their companies was neither higher nor lower as a result of the stimulus package.
What about the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office? A February 2009 Washington Times article said:
"President Obama's economic recovery package will actually hurt the economy more in the long run than if he were to do nothing, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said Wednesday.
"CBO, the official scorekeepers for legislation, said the House and Senate bills will help in the short term but result in so much government debt that within a few years they would crowd out private investment, actually leading to a lower Gross Domestic Product over the next 10 years than if the government had done nothing."
What do normal, regular, real-world people think? In December 2009, a Rasmussen poll asked likely voters whether the "stimulus" helped, hurt or did nothing.
They agreed with the private-sector economists and the CBO -- the stimulus did not work. And more felt it did damage than thought it helped: "A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 30 percent of voters nationwide believe the $787-billion economic stimulus plan has helped the economy. However, 38 percent believe that the stimulus plan has hurt the economy. This is the first time since the legislation passed that a plurality has held a negative view of its impact."
Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and commentator Ed we-need-health-care-reform-and-I-don't-care-how-much-it-costs Schultz think one way. Believers in the free market and limited government think another. As between these two camps, which one better understands how the real world works?
Zogby International asked questions about economics of nearly 5,000 people. George Mason University economist Dan Klein co-authored a report on the responses given to eight basic economic questions. (Correct answers and "not sure" responses were ignored -- only flatly incorrect responses were counted.) Do housing restrictions increase the price of housing? The answer is yes. Whether the restrictions are good or bad is a separate issue. But restrictions on any good increase the price of that good -- whether houses or horseshoes. Do minimum wages increase unemployment? The answer is yes. Whether one accepts this as a worthy trade-off is a separate question. Is our standard of living higher than it was 30 years ago? It is. Whether we are "addicted" to oil or facing cataclysmic "global warming" is a separate issue. The other questions involved licensing, rent control, the definition of a monopoly, the definition of exploitation, and whether free trade leads to unemployment.
Respondents self-identified as progressive/very liberal, liberal, moderate, conservative, very conservative, or libertarian. Who did better?
"On every question," wrote Klein, "the left did much worse. On the monopoly question, the portion of progressive/very liberals answering incorrectly (31 percent) was more than twice that of conservatives (13 percent) and more than four times that of libertarians (7 percent). On the question about living standards, the portion of progressive/very liberals answering incorrectly (61 percent) was more than four times that of conservatives (13 percent) and almost three times that of libertarians (21 percent)."
Maybe those with more education performed better? No, the report said. "We work with three levels of schooling: (1) high school or less; (2) some college (but not a degree); (3) a college degree or more. In our data, economic enlightenment is not correlated with going to college."
The left blames the financial collapse on "greed," ignoring the role played by government involvement -- Freddie Mac, Ginnie Mae, the Federal Housing Administration, the Community Reinvestment Act and elsewhere. Leftists point to "insufficient regulation" on Wall Street for reckless behavior, rather than to the players' assumption that too-big-to-fail would protect them.
On the BP Gulf oil spill, Obama wants to find "whose ass to kick." He's called for a moratorium on new offshore drilling. But why do we drill offshore for oil more than a mile deep? Is it that on-land and safer, shallow water areas are off-limits -- thus pushing companies to extract oil from more dangerous places? Have the restrictions on clean nuclear power altered how and where we obtain energy?
Republicans, in the eight-question economics poll, averaged 1.61 incorrect answers. Democrats averaged 4.59 wrong answers. So in the President's search for "ass to kick," start here.