Off Message Watch: “I Don’t Know That for Sure”

The administration just cannot admit that it made a mistake in proposing a stimulus package that was too small. This is from a Q&A with Austan Goolsbee::

Q. Would our economy be in better shape right now if the initial stimulus when the administration took office had been bigger?
A. I don’t know the answer to that for sure. There’s a bit of a crystal ball in that. It obviously depends on what the things were.

The right answer here is “of course if would have been better,” and to then talk about how Republicans blocked any hope of additional stimulus once it was clear the economy was doing much worse than anticipated. But because the administration refuses to admit its mistake and concede that the stimulus was too small, it cannot bring itself to argue that the economy needs more help from fiscal authorities. There were nods in this direction now and again, but the administration never really tried to make this argument, a strong push for a job creation program for example, and it has thus given up the chance to make clear which party is standing in the way of providing more help for distressed households.

Update: I see that Paul Krugman, referring to this statement by Jared Bernstein, is thinking along the same lines:

Getting Obama’s Drift: I felt sorry for Jared Bernstein, who surely knows better, having to convey the administration’s attempt to downplay the terrible jobs numbers.

I know what’s going on: the administration decided, more or less a year ago, that rather than admit that its stimulus package was inadequate and call for more, it would put on a happy face and hope for better news. But here’s the thing: by now we know that this strategy has been a political disaster. So you would think that the administration would change its line.

But to do that, someone at the top has to make the decision to change direction. And clearly, nobody has. I don’t think there was a deliberate decision to persist in an obviously losing strategy; I just think top management has gone missing. And so the administration drifts …

About Mark Thoma 243 Articles

Affiliation: University of Oregon

Mark Thoma is a member of the Economics Department at the University of Oregon. He joined the UO faculty in 1987 and served as head of the Economics Department for five years. His research examines the effects that changes in monetary policy have on inflation, output, unemployment, interest rates and other macroeconomic variables with a focus on asymmetries in the response of these variables to policy changes, and on changes in the relationship between policy and the economy over time. He has also conducted research in other areas such as the relationship between the political party in power, and macroeconomic outcomes and using macroeconomic tools to predict transportation flows. He received his doctorate from Washington State University.

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