Saturday, December 20, 2008

Another Stimulus Spending Skeptic

A letter from a reader:

I read your blog on a daily basis and I've noted your skepticism about the monstrous bailout package being considered by the incoming Obama administration. In reading all of the econblogs I can find, I'm struck by the lack of practical knowledge both there and within the circle of advisers Obama has assembled.

I work for the DoD and when the Department of Homeland Security was established,we helped them with many things, not the least of which was contracting. To make a long story short, you cannot juice up a government agency's budget by tens of billions (or in the case of the stimulus package, hundreds of billions) and expect them to be able to process the paperwork to contract it out, much less oversee the projects or even choose them with any kind of hope for success. It's like trying to feed a Pomeranian a 25 lb turkey. It's madness.

It was years before DHS got the situation under control and between the start and when they finally assembled a sufficiently capable team of lawyers, contracting officials, technical experts and resource managers, most of the money was totally wasted. Now take the DHS situation and multiply it by 20 and you've got the Obama stimulus package. Even if they hand the money to existing governmental agencies, the situation will be the same. Those existing agencies are working full time administering the
budgets they have. They can't just add a zero at the end of each contract and be done with it.

Lastly, I've seen no business case analysis for this investment. I've seen lots of people referring to models and charts and graphs and history, but I've seen no analysis indicating that any of this will give you even a modest ROI....

Stop looking at models and equations and theoretical constructs for a while and look at the practical considerations of the stimulus package. I've been doing this sort of thing for quite a while and I'm convinced it's doomed from the start. If they feel the need to blast a trillion dollars into confetti, then tax cuts would make the most sense. Even if the public used the money to pay down debt, that would be a good thing as it would transfer the debt burden from the consumer to the government making the consumer feel a little bit like spending again.