Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Non-Stimulating Economic Stimulus Plan

The 'Helicopter Economics Investing Guide' is meant to help educate people on how to make profitable investing choices in the current economic environment. In addition to the term helicopter economics, we have also coined the term, helicopternomics, to describe the current monetary and fiscal policies of the U.S. government and to update the old-fashioned term wheelbarrow economics.

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President Obama was defending his economic stimulus plan over the weekend in a radio address and in an op-ed piece in the Washington Post. He rejected calls for a new stimulus package. In a really eye popping statement in the Post, Obama stated that his stimulus program "was not expected to return the economy to full health, but to provide a boost that would stop the free fall." Now, that's a real ambitious goal! Left unanswered was, what is being done that is expected to return the economy to full health?

The Obama stimulus plan has a number of components and it is questionable how economically stimulating most of them will be as is. The first phase of $288 billion in tax cuts has mostly been implemented. The result? The U.S. savings rate went up significantly. Those people who didn't save their tax cut money, paid down their personal debt. The money didn't go into the economy. So much for that part of the stimulus plan. Tax cuts for stimulating the economy are more of a Republican idea though. Why they were the cornerstone of a 'change you can believe in' Democratic economic program is a good question.

Other components of the $787 billion stimulus include major increases in Medicaid spending, about $48 billion in highway and bridge construction and billions more to boost energy efficiency, shore up state budgets, and increase educational spending. How increasing Medicaid spending boosts the economy is beyond me. This type of spending is a drag on the economy. Bailing out state governments (the plan is not exactly doing a good job on that one so far based on what is happening in California) also is not going to stimulate the economy. It indeed might keep the economy out of free fall however. As for the alternative energy component of the plan, this is something with long term economic potential, not short term. The Democrats recent attempts to keep energy prices low by having the CFTC manipulate the market are going to undermine this part of the stimulus program because alternative energy will be too relatively expensive to be economically viable. The one component of the plan that would both stimulate the economy in the short term and long term is the money for fixing the U.S. transportation infrastructure. This accounts for only 6% of the plan's spending.

There is also no reason to think that the plan should be having any effect by now anyway. Only $60.4 billion of the non-tax component has been spent so far. As reported in the Wall Street Journal this weekend, the White House isn't changing its goal of spending 70% of the stimulus funds by September 2010 (yes that is 2010, not 2009). And people are wondering why the stimulus plan doesn't seem to be effective so far. I think I have the solution! Money spent next year can't possibly stimulate the economy this year. While this may seem obvious to anyone who isn't in a coma, it seems to have alluded the political establishment in Washington.

We are now in the 20th month of the current recession, which makes it a post World War II record breaker for the U.S. The previous longest recession was 16 months. Based on monthly statistics there is no evidence that the decline is going to stop any time soon. When the negative numbers turn positive is when recovery is taking place, not when they become less negative. Despite this Obama stated in his weekend messages that "unemployment tends to recover more slowly than other measures of economic activity", implying that recovery is taking place overall. This is not happening, things are only get worse at a slower rate. Of course, this is like saying we are sinking into a depression slowly instead of quickly. According to his Washington Post article, this seems to have been Obama's goal. With success like this, who needs failure?

NEXT: Government Sachs - Earnings and Market Manipulation

Daryl Montgomery
Organizer,New York Investing meetup

This posting is editorial opinion. Like all other postings for this blog, there is no intention to endorse the purchase or sale of any security.

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