Jun 21, 2011 10:17 PM GMT
Short answer: No. Glad you wasted all that (borrowed) money?
It has become a common refrain at the White House and among administration supporters that President Obama's aggressive efforts to stimulate growth prevented an economic catastrophe.
"We had to hit the ground running and do everything we could to prevent a second Great Depression," Obama told supporters last week.
Politically, the claim makes sense. Casting the challenge Obama faced as immense can help explain the economy's lackluster performance in the two years since the recession officially ended.
But is it an accurate portrayal of what really happened?
IBD reviewed records of economic forecasts made just before Obama signed the stimulus bill into law, as well as economic data and monthly stimulus spending data from around that time, and reviews of the stimulus bill itself.
The conclusion is that in claiming to have staved off a Depression, the White House and its supporters seem to be engaging in a bit of historical revisionism.
Economists weren't predicting a Depression.
White House economists forecast in January 2009 that, even without a stimulus, unemployment would top out at just 8.8% — well below the 10.8% peak during the 1981-82 recession, and nowhere near Depression-era unemployment levels.
The same month, the Congressional Budget Office predicted that, absent any stimulus, the recession would end in "the second half of 2009." The recession officially ended in June 2009, suggesting that the stimulus did not have anything to do with it.
The data weren't showing it, either.
The argument is often made that the recession turned out to be far worse than anyone knew at the time. But various indicators show that the economy had pretty much hit bottom at the end of 2008 — a month before President Obama took office.
Monthly GDP, for example, stopped free-falling in December 2008, long before the stimulus kicked in, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research. (See nearby chart.) Monthly job losses bottomed out in early 2009 while the Index of Leading Economic Indicators started to rise in April.
The stimulus timing is off.
When the recession officially ended in June 2009, just 15% of the stimulus money had gone out the door. And that figure's likely inflated, since almost a third of the money was in the form of grants to states, which some studies suggest they didn't spend, but used to pay down debt.
Other programs Obama often touts — Cash for Clunkers, mortgage help, homebuyer tax credits, the auto rescue plans — either came as the recession had ended or was ending or were widely deemed to be busts.