Biden Ignores Warnings Of Krugman, Stiglitz, Roubini And Others
During his interview with ABC's This Week on Sunday, Vice President Joe Biden made what will be a much-discussed admission in the week ahead. The Obama administration, he said, had "misread" the extent of the economic catastrophe it inherited.
"The truth is, we and everyone else misread the economy," declared Biden. "The figures we worked off of in January were the consensus figures and most of the blue chip indexes out there."
"We misread how bad the economy was, but we are now only about 120 days into the recovery package," the vice president said later in the interview. "The truth of the matter was, no one anticipated, no one expected that that recovery package would in fact be in a position at this point of having to distribute the bulk of money."
Certainly, the Obama administration's acknowledgment that it misjudged the crisis it inherited is rife with possibilities for its political opponents. House Minority Leader John Boehner rapped the White House repeatedly on Sunday for presiding over the loss of more than two million jobs since January. Former Bush strategist Matt Dowd, appearing on the ABC panel after Biden, did much the same. For an Obama White House that, two weeks ago, told the public to measure the success of its policies based on jobs they created, it is difficult to decry these critiques as inherently unfair, regardless of what troubles were passed on from the Bush administration.
But equally problematic is Biden's assertion that "everyone" - not just the White House - was off in their prognostications. This is simply untrue.
Host George Stephanopoulos pointed out that "a lot of people were saying that you needed to do something bigger and bolder" when it came to the stimulus package. He named New York Times columnist Paul Krugman as one example. There are many others.
The prize-winning Columbia University economist Joseph Stiglitz not only warned that the stimulus was too small during its construction, the day after Obama signed it into law he predicted how its shortcomings would make themselves apparent.
"I think there is a broad consensus but not universal among economist that the stimulus package that was passed was badly designed and not enough. I know it is not universal but let me try to explain. First of all that it was not enough should be pretty apparent from what I just said: It is trying to offset the deficiency in aggregate demand and it is just too small," Stiglitz said. "The shortfall in state revenue [is] probably in the order of 150 to 200 billion dollars a year. And the states have balanced budget frameworks so if you follow the newspaper you know the drastic problems that California and New York are in, these are really serious problems and because of their balanced budget frameworks they have to reduce their spending... if their income comes down. So that would be a negative stimulus of 150 to 200 billion unless there is federal aid. And the stimulus package there was a little of federal aid but just not enough. So what we will be doing is we will be laying off teachers and laying off people in the health care sector while we are hiring construction workers. It is a little strange for a design of a stimulus package. You ask, why do you want to hire construction workers and fire teachers. I don't know what is the rationale behind that."
Stiglitz was joined by a whole host of liberal economists -- from the University of Texas' James Galbraith to Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research -- who warned that the stimulus package inexplicably underestimated the size of the crisis.
Several weeks after the stimulus passed, economist Nouriel Roubini, known affectionately as Dr. Doom, made the case that the administration's approach to stabilizing the economy lacked an effective international component.
"You have to have a set of concerted, coherent policies done not just by the U.S. but by Europe, Japan, China and everyone else," he said. "The credit crunch is just massive. One thing that's needed is much more aggressive monetary easing. The second dimension is that you need much more fiscal stimulus -- in the countries that can afford it -- that is front-loaded. The U.S. [stimulus package] is $800 billion, but only $200 billion is front-loaded. Of that $200 billion [in stimulus] this year, half of it is tax cuts. That's going to be a waste of money, because people are not going to spend it."
In mid-June, weeks before the latest round of poor job numbers came out, U.C. Berkeley professor and former Clinton administration official Brad DeLong was arguing that "the Obama administration's federal fiscal stimulus programs are on the low side of what is appropriate by a substantial margin."
"This is the largest economic downturn since the Great Depression and the standard tools of expansionary monetary policy are tapped out and broken right now," he wrote.
The day that June's job numbers came out, meanwhile, Nassim Taleb, principal of Universa Investments and author of 'The Black Swan,' offered a far more grim interpretation of what was transpiring, though one relatively consistent with what he had said in the past.
"We're in the middle of a crash," said Taleb during an appearance on CNBC. "So if I'm going to forecast something, it is that it's going to get worse, not better."
Certainly Krugman himself has aired his share of skepticism. In late June, he reminded his readers that his early concerns had not been misplaced.
"[S]ome of us warned about what might happen: if unemployment surpassed the administration's optimistic projections, Republicans wouldn't accept the need for more stimulus," he wrote in the Times. "Instead, they'd declare the whole economic policy a failure. And that's exactly how it's playing out. With the unemployment rate now almost certain to pass 10 percent, there's an overwhelming economic case for more stimulus. But as a political matter it's going to be harder, not easier, to get that extra stimulus now than it would have been to get the plan right in the first place.
This past week, meanwhile, he declared once more that the Obama stimulus plan, while "better than nothing" needs to be supplemented with something more.
To be fair, the process of economic forecasting is, as Taleb noted in his CNBC segment, an inherently tricky proposition. In October 2008, for instance, Roubini was arguing that the government needed a $400 billion stimulus package, which ended up being just more than half of what the Obama White House settled on.
But among those who were sounding the loudest alarms about the potential inadequacies of the economic recovery plan, the consensus seems to be emerging that more now needs to be done. Later in his ABC segment, Biden - who is responsible for overseeing the stimulus - was asked if a second package was in the offing. No, he replied, without dismissing the possibility outright. "I think it's premature to make that judgment. This was set up to spend out over 18 months. There are going to be major programs that are going to take effect in September, $7.5 billion for broadband, new money for high-speed rail, the implementation of the grid -- the new electric grid. And so this is just starting, the pace of the ball is now going to increase."