Sunday, May 17, 2009


Click on the graphic to enlarge. Source. Click here to see an updated graph.

When the Obama stimulus plan was proposed, the president's economic team put out a report in January 2009 that purported to show what would happen with and without the fiscal stimulus. The chart above is from page four that report, together with the actual results over the past couple months. As you can see, the actual outcome is significantly worse than the projection with the stimulus plan and is, in fact, roughly on track with what was projected without the stimulus.

What does this mean? One interpretation is that the fiscal stimulus has failed to achieve what Team Obama thought it would. Another interpretation is that the baseline was worse than they believed at the time. I am confident the report authors would adopt the second interpretation. If so, that fact is consistent with what I said in a previous post: In light of the shifting baseline, it is impossible to hold the administration accountable for whether its policies are achieving their intended effects.

To be clear, this lack of accountability is not a feature on this specific administration but is, instead, a reflection of the inherent uncertainties associated with macroeconomics. The administration, however, has not been particularly forthright in admitting to this lack of accountability. Indeed, the act of releasing quarterly reports on how many jobs have been "created or saved" gives the illusion of accountability without the reality.