What if the stimulus had been larger?

Taylor is skeptical of such reasoning. He questions whether such massive spending could happen quickly or efficiently. Summers, who ran Obama’s National Economic Council, harbors such doubts, too. As he told the Washington Post: “So-called shovel-ready projects often were not in fact ready to go. Almost everyone close to the process feels that Joe Biden and his team did a very good job of moving the stimulus money through the system, and as a consequence, money moved more or less on the schedule we projected in 2009. They would be the first to say that it would not have been possible to move vastly more money into quick trigger infrastructure projects.”

So cranking up the stimulus machine to 11 would have been difficult, if not impossible. But that is not the only argument to be made against the effectiveness of the stimulus. We also know that high levels of government spending crowd out private consumption. And as we learned from the permanent-income hypothesis that won Milton Friedman his Nobel Prize, some Americans realize all the massive deficit-financed spending of today will ultimately require raising their taxes tomorrow. So short-term changes in income tend to have little impact on how people spend. “New Keynesian” models, like one used by the European Central Bank, sought to incorporate such factors and predicted that the Obama stimulus would have just a fraction of the impact estimated by Romer and other White House economists. Instead of creating 3 million jobs, perhaps the actual total was 600,000, or about $1 million a job (assuming approximately 80 percent of the stimulus has been distributed.) That would mean the job growth that has occurred has been mostly a result of the natural recovery of the economy.

Such estimates sure seem to better reflect the miserable reality of the past two and a half years than what the White House is selling. The anti-stimulus models also imply that for the Recovery Act to have had the impact Obama sought, it would have needed to be six times larger, or roughly $5 trillion in borrowed money.