THE EMPIRICAL OPPOSITION.

Ross Douthat suggests that it's Democrats, not Republicans, who are being highly ideological about the stimulus package:

We're only two weeks into the new age of liberalism, but so far, Chait's been utterly vindicated, don't you think? Indeed, the above paragraph strikes me as a near-perfect distillation of the process that has produced the current stimulus package: A clear-eyed, cool-headed, non-ideological pragmatism, untouched by any pre-existing wish lists or biases.

I'm being sarcastic, obviously. Yet of course there are many, many smart liberals - from Paul Krugman to, well, Barack Obama - who would say that Chait has been vindicated, because whatever its faults the stimulus bill is ultimately non-ideological: Shoveling vast amounts of money out the door is simply what you do in circumstances like these if you want to avoid utter economic calamity. The money-shovelers are empiricists, in other words, and their opponents are know-nothings.

Douthat doesn't really address whether the empirical arguments for the stimulus have merit, nor does he address whether Republicans have leveled an evidence-based argument in opposition. Rather, he sees the terms the Democrats have set as unfair, and therefore invalid.

But it's worth looking at the arguments Republicans have been offering. Both Mitch McConnell and George Will have put themselves in the untenable position of arguing that government spending prolonged the Great Depression but that government spending because of World War II ended the Great Depression. Will and McConnell argue not that government spending won't work, but that it'll only work if we spend the money on stuff the Republicans like. Maybe we should start another war? Meanwhile, the primary source for the argument that FDR made the Depression worse through government spending is a non-economist who simply ignores the numbers that don't fit her point.

The Republican Party pounced on a partial CBO report that said only 68% of the stimulus would be spent in the first eighteen months, than ignored the complete version that said 75% of it would be spent in the first eighteen months. Or at least, they ignored the part of the report that said the stimulus would help the economy, they did manage to take out of context the observation that the debt would hurt the economy if we didn't pay it down by 2019, in order to argue that in the long run, the stimulus "makes things worse."

Fortunately, Arnold Kling comes to the empirical rescue, still relying on the numbers from the partial CBO report rather than the more recent report, because he likes those numbers better. Oh, and in case you didn't know, our president is black so it's not a stimulus bill, it's a "reparations" bill. Also, we know the stimulus won't work because former government employee Michael Steele says "not in the history of mankind has the government ever created a job."

The GOP's opposition to the stimulus package has essentially amounted to sticking their fingers in their ears and bellowing at the top of their lungs, but Douthat would have us believe that it's the Democrats who are being highly ideological.

-- A. Serwer

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