I’ve tended to find a certain shifty and hard-to-pin-down quality to some of the opposition to the stimulus plan. Those who don’t just dismiss the idea that stimulus could possibly work even in theory tend to offer vague denunciations of the wasteful nature of the package, combined with alarm at the headline total cost, plus perhaps an illustration of a particular program they don’t approve of. But to this end, something like this pie chart accompanying CAP’s Recovery and Reinvestment 102 document is useful.
I’m not sure it will convince anyone, per se, that the bill is a worthwhile one. But at a minimum, it can help keep things in perspective. It’s worth noting that the least-controversial elements—tax cuts, state fiscal aid, and relief to the needy—together constitute a clear majority of the spending. These days, a surprisingly large number of economists seem to have been bewitched by very strange models which indicate that stimulus is impossible. But those who believe that it’s possible for a stimulus plan to work, generally agree that these three things are stimulative and it’s not a coincidence that they compose a majority of the funds being disbursed.
To me the “investments” are perfectly justifiable as well. The need to increase our capacity to generate green energy, and the need to reduce the energy-intensity of our economy, seem clear enough to me. On the infrastructure/education/health front the precise provisions can be debated as one likes. But in broad terms, I would say that if you put the United States in comparison to other prosperous countries we generally have more consumer goods, but worse infrastructure, lower-performing education systems, and a less-healthy population. Under the circumstances, the argument for a bit of rebalancing toward those kind of goods—the kind that are typically provided by the public sector—makes a lot of sense.