President Obama hails the fact that stimulus projects are coming in “ahead of schedule and under budget.” Yay — but boo.
Ahead of schedule is good. Under budget — well, ordinarily that’s a good thing. But the point of the stimulus is to increase spending! So if we don’t spend as much as expected, that’s less stimulus.
Technically, maybe this is right. But it ignores the political side of things, which in this case is probably more important than a few billion dollars here and there. Back in the 30s, the WPA struggled endlessly with attacks on “wastefulness,” and those attacks were instrumental in keeping spending below the level it otherwise could have been. Filling up bottles with money and paying people to dig them up may have been a nice metaphor for Keynes, but that’s all it was: a metaphor. In the real world, if we want to maintain public support for stimulus spending, it has to be seen as fair, efficient, and well managed. Obama is playing this exactly right.