eanwhile, Joshua Aizenman and Gurnain Kaur Pasricha showed in a National Bureau of Economic Research paper that, using either measure, ARRA’s “net fiscal impact” was zero.
What gives? Did Paul Krugman’s prognostications about Fifty Little Hoovers come true? Not so fast. The NBER study asked not whether ARRA boosted the economy but merely whether it stimulated government spending. (Tax cuts are completely out of the story.)
There is no doubt federal outlays grew – to the tune of about $160 billion through last December according to the CBO. But, the NBER authors say, belt tightening by state and local governments almost completely offset this increase.
As the NBER authors note, “the counterfactual of the performance of the US economy in the absence of the fiscal stimulus is hard to ascertain.” In other words, no one knows what would have happened to government spending without the stimulus. They assume it would have chugged along at typical post-World War II levels, while others think we were headed for The Great Depression 2.0. In any event, it’s certainly not hard to find a governor who says that, but for those extra federal funds, their budget situation would be a lot worse.
So was ARRA a flop? No more so than usual. States and localities generally save federal dollars for a rainy day if they can get away with it, much like individuals save tax cuts. This tendency also frustrated Washington architects of General Revenue Sharing during the 1970s and 1980s.
Tracy is on target, but my take is a little different in one respect: almost every state has a balanced budget requirement, which means that all the Feds did was allow states to cut less spending than they otherwise might have. And as it is, they still cut a lot.