The stimulus worked

Of course, no one can be certain about what would have happened in an alternate universe without a $787 billion stimulus. But there are two main reasons to think the hard-core skeptics are misguided — above and beyond those complicated, independent economic analyses.

The first is the basic narrative that the data offer. Pick just about any area of the economy and you come across the stimulus bill’s footprints…

The story isn’t quite as clear-cut with consumer spending, as skeptics note. Its sharp plunge stopped before President Obama signed the stimulus into law exactly one year ago. But the billions of dollars in tax cuts, food stamps and jobless benefits in the stimulus have still made a difference. Since February, aggregate wages and salaries have fallen, while consumer spending has risen. The difference between the two — some $100 billion — has essentially come from stimulus checks.

The second argument in the bill’s favor is the history of financial crises. They have wreaked terrible damage on economies. Indeed, the damage tended to be even worse than what we have suffered…

Yet the jobless rate is now expected to begin falling consistently by the end of this year.

For that, the stimulus package, flaws and all, deserves a big heaping of credit. “It prevented things from getting much worse than they otherwise would have been,” Nariman Behravesh, Global Insight’s chief economist, says. “I think everyone would have to acknowledge that’s a good thing.”