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Obama's stimulus bill, I just learned, was 50% larger in constant dollars than the New Deal.  To be sure, it was one bill, not a wholesale institution of baseline social insurance protections as groundbreaking policies.  But the fact that it was significantly bigger than the New Deal in absolute terms was really eye-opening to me.

[Maybe the Kos community was up on all of this: I searched for a diary about this topic.  I learned the above fact and much more from David Plotz's review of Michael Grunwald's book The New New Deal: The Hidden Story of Change in the Obama Era.  If someone else has already diaried this, I'll delete this one.]

Says Grunwald:

I was very aware that the stimulus included about $90 billion for clean energy, which was astonishing, because the feds were only spending a few billion dollars a year before. The stimulus was pouring unprecedented funding into wind, solar, and other renewables; energy efficiency in every form; advanced biofuels; electric vehicles; a smarter grid; cleaner coal; and factories to make all that green stuff in the U.S.

It was clearly a huge deal. And it got me curious about what else was in the stimulus. I remember doing some dogged investigative reporting—OK, a Google search—and learning that the stimulus also launched Race to the Top, which was a real a-ha moment. I knew Race to the Top was a huge deal in the education reform world, but I had no idea it was a stimulus program. It quickly became obvious that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the formal name of the stimulus) was also a huge deal for health care, transportation, scientific research, and the safety net as well as the flailing economy. It was about Reinvestment as well as Recovery, and it was hidden in plain view.

So I decided to do a piece for Time about this untold story. But my editors thought I was nuts. The stimulus was old news. Unemployment was 9 percent; what else was there to say?

Below the "orange thing", there is more.

Here is an excerpt from Plotz's review on Slate:

Plotz's question: The New Deal produced tangible, monumental physical achievements—dams, trails, works of art, buildings. The stimulus produced none of that. There were no new bridges—instead they repaved old ones.  Why? Why didn’t the Obama administration look for physical structures to build and celebrate?

I wouldn’t say “none of that.” The stimulus is producing the world’s largest wind farm, a half dozen of the world’s largest solar arrays, and America’s first refineries for advanced biofuels. It’s creating a battery-manufacturing industry for electric vehicles almost entirely from scratch. It financed net-zero border stations and visitors centers, an eco-friendly new Coast Guard headquarters, a one-of-a-kind “advanced synchrotron light source.” It jump-started three long-awaited mega-projects in Manhattan alone—the Moynihan Station, the Second Avenue Subway, and the Long Island Railroad connection to the East Side—and it would have jump-started that multibillion-dollar rail tunnel to New Jersey as well if Governor Chris Christie hadn’t killed the project.

It didn’t build new dams, because we don’t need new dams, but it did finance the largest dam-removal project in U.S. history to restore salmon flows on the Elwha River. It even distributed $50 million to artists.

But I take your point. Most of the money in the stimulus went to unsexy stuff designed to prevent a depression and ease the pain of the recession: aid to help states avoid drastic cuts in public services and public employees; unemployment benefits, food stamps, and other assistance for victims of the downturn; and tax cuts for 95 percent of American workers. And the money that did flow into public works went more toward fixing stuff that needed fixing—aging pipes, dilapidated train stations, my beloved Everglades—than building new stuff. In its first year, the stimulus financed 22,000 miles of road improvements, and only 230 miles of new roads. There were good reasons for that. Repairs tend to be more shovel-ready than new projects, so they pump money into the economy faster. They also pass the do-no-harm test. (New sprawl roads make all kind of problems worse.) And they are fiscally responsible. Repairing roads reduces maintenance backlogs and future deficits; building roads add to maintenance backlogs and future deficits.

Read the entire review below. It covers the facts, the politics, and is not the product of a hagiographer:

For me, my reaction to some of this information was "wow, just wow."  And in between the parts of my busy life and parenting I try to keep informed and think I do better than most.  That said, I agree with Grunwald's assessment that the stimulus proved to be a massive accomplishment hidden in plain sight.  I knew it to be extremely effective in stemming the economic bleeding, but I somehow naively had been figuring a lot of its long-term impact would be melting away as the economy picked up its own steam.

Earlier today I happened to stumble on a youtube video of Obama announcing passage of the health care passage.  Obama mentioned in announcing it how long we had waited -- since the New Deal era in fact -- to have significant progress on health care reform.  An advocate of single payer and someone who had spoken at rallies in support of the public option and otherwise agitated as I could, the bill wasn't what I wanted.    But DAMN, this President did a helluva lot.  We've got to make sure he gets a chance to do more.

And Romney and Ryan, well, we know they'd like to undo as much of the above and more as they can and give it back to themselves and their friends -- so they can recycle it back into political disinformation campaigns to further entitle the 1%, squirrel it away in offshore accounts, and give nothing toward the future of our nation and its people....

Keep fighting!  It feels as if Rmoney and Ryan are back on their heels -- but there is a lot of money yet to be spent.....


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Comment Preferences

  •  It's fine (4+ / 0-)

    To praise under-appreciated parts of the stimulus, but the New Deal represented a giant change in governing philosophy.  The fact that FDR dramatically underspent on the the levels needed to actually end the Depression is well understood, so spending "More than the New Deal" isn't really that high a bar to cross.  

    The achievement of the New Deal was turning the US Federal government into something that helped ordinary people survive tough times, protected them from vultures and brought needed services to places the market was not interested in bringing them (like electricity to the Tennessee Valley).  It is the re-invention of Government as a means to solve collective problems.  

    If you focus just on raw $ spent you miss the big picture, and you open the Stimulus up to other unfortunate comparisons, like say stacking it against the money spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan where it doesn't come out so hot.  

    •  I agree with what you said... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      elmo, majcmb1, Scientician

      And alluded to it in the post, if you read it.  

      I only used the "bigger deal" frame as a hook.

      But did you read the article?  It puts some of the bill - as well as the fact that its essential scope was smaller than that of the New Deal program - almost aura he calls it.

      There's no meaning here to take away from what FDR accomplished, only to understand the magnitude of what Obama did.

    •  Of course (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      The New Deal not only helped ease the economy, but it also took steps to prevent another deppression from happening, by creating the SEC, Social Security, etc. It also allowed for greater labor regulations, and allowed a fairer tax system. In many ways though, FDR was not 100% Keynesian; he often pushed for austerity, and he cut spending and raised taxes in his second term which caused a double-dip recession. Then his massive spending in WWII lifted us out by sparking in new industry.

      Republicans are far more socialist than Democrats. Just because they want to redistribute the wealth upwards does not make it any better.

      by MrAnon on Thu Aug 16, 2012 at 08:48:36 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Shows how deep the Great Recession was/is (0+ / 0-)

    Quite an eye-opener, and the fact that Obama wanted more (and Krugman suggested even more, like $2 trillion) shows just how deep a hole Bush the Lesser's (chief among many) left us in.  I wonder how much worse off we'd be if not for the stimulus package?  I bet the GOP is pissed that they let it pass at all.

    A reasonable amount of hope, some incremental change, and a chance to flip SCOTUS. And every day, the opposition motivates me to get my base in gear.

    by dackmont on Thu Aug 16, 2012 at 07:56:37 PM PDT

    •  P.S. Race seems to be tightening already (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      If you regularly follow Nate Silver you'll see several swing states have tightened in the last few days and the projected E.V. total for Obama has decreased.  Could be a bit of a blip, though.

      Actually, the fact that I'm even thinking/writing this probably shows I need to spend more time doing and less surfing/thinking.


      A reasonable amount of hope, some incremental change, and a chance to flip SCOTUS. And every day, the opposition motivates me to get my base in gear.

      by dackmont on Thu Aug 16, 2012 at 08:01:38 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Read Nate Silver today. (0+ / 0-)

        He debunks what you just said.

        Nate Silver

        •  U mean his post about "Romney rally"? (0+ / 0-)

          If so, he was speaking of his skepticism about Intrade, not his own model.  According to the latter, there was some minor tightening over few days prior to 16th, e.g. Ohio probability falling 5 points to go under 70%, and Obama's projected EV total dipping below 300.  Minor, like I said -- probably not worth reading much, if anything, into it.  No other Nate posts on 16th or 17th. FWIW.

          A reasonable amount of hope, some incremental change, and a chance to flip SCOTUS. And every day, the opposition motivates me to get my base in gear.

          by dackmont on Mon Aug 20, 2012 at 11:39:30 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  Regarding that (0+ / 0-)

      This timeline of events shows how even for Krugman it was difficult to estimate the exact scale of the recession, and he kept changing his estimate for the adequate stimulus size. At the same time that was going on, Obama had to get four Republicans (Snowe, Collins, Specter, and Lieberman) to side with him. So while the stimulus certainly should have been bigger, it was impossible for the Democrats to get what was needed. So while the job losses were stopped, the economy has yet to recover. We were kind of able to get a second stimulus in middle class tax cuts in December of 2010, but outside of the payroll tax cuts, income tax cuts are not a very good way to stimulate the economy.

      Republicans are far more socialist than Democrats. Just because they want to redistribute the wealth upwards does not make it any better.

      by MrAnon on Thu Aug 16, 2012 at 08:36:01 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I don't think calling Obama a big spender (0+ / 0-)

    Will help him get elected

    •  Agreed. Though the frame investing in our future (0+ / 0-)

      rather than spending and in stemming the Republican-initiated bleeding is how I'd frame it.

      But to your point: this is not a political positioning statement.  And I agree that I wouldn't start the focus there....

    •  First tip: (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Never use the term "spending" positively. Say "investment". "Obama made the largest single investment in the economy in history" sounds good.

      Second tip: immediately lay out plans to pay for it. "We want to pay for it by closing tax loopholes, making billionaires pay their fair share of taxes, bringing our troops and our money home from Iraq and Afghanistan, and cutting waste in the Pentagon."

      Republicans are far more socialist than Democrats. Just because they want to redistribute the wealth upwards does not make it any better.

      by MrAnon on Thu Aug 16, 2012 at 08:51:30 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thank God er whatever (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    for (R)s Collins (Maine); Snowe (Maine); Specter (Pa.) Every Dem voted yes but still that was only 58.

    Next time some concern type tells you O should have done more remind them of that.

    "Fascism is attracting the dregs of humanity- people with a slovenly biography - sadists, mental freaks, traitors." - ILYA EHRENBURG

    by durrati on Thu Aug 16, 2012 at 08:14:49 PM PDT

  •  You must be using a very limited definition (5+ / 0-)

    of the New Deal, because no, the Obama stimulus was not bigger than the quintessential New Deal program, Social Security.  ot by several orders of magnitude.  Further, New Deal jobs programs, like WPA and CCC basically spent all the money creating jobs directly.  The Obama stimulus, true to its roots in contemporary Reaganite hegemony rather than the New Deal was at best in the form of contracts with private sector businesses where much of the contract gets raked off in corporate profit.  Far more of the Obama "stimulus" was in business tax cuts, which puts 100% of the money in the boss's pocket and wishes upon a star tht maybe the bossman will hire somebody with some of the money, but doesn't guaranty that a single dime will be spent that way.

    Finally, the New Deal overthrew the previous hegemony of capital not only through its spending programs, but also through means like the Wagner Act fortified the ability of workers to act on their own in their own self-interest.  In contrast, at no time and in no way did the Obama stimulus ever challenge, never mind overturn, the political and ideologicaL hammerlock Reaganism continues to hold on our entire social system.

    Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?

    by ActivistGuy on Thu Aug 16, 2012 at 09:15:05 PM PDT

    •  Agreed. As one can read in the post vs. headline (0+ / 0-)
    •  Compare the New Deal to the entire Obama term (0+ / 0-)

      including ACA and Dodd-Frank, and you get much closer.  But to your point, here's another quote from the interview:

       There was no need to re-create Big Government, and no political desire to expand Big Government.

      So the stimulus didn’t establish new entitlements like Social Security or deposit insurance, or new federal responsibilities like securities regulation or labor relations, or new workfare programs for the creative class like the Federal Art Project, Federal Music Project, or Federal Writers Project. The New Deal was a barrage of contradictory initiatives enacted and adjusted over several years. The stimulus was one piece of legislation cobbled together and squeezed through Congress during Obama’s first month in office. The New Deal was a journey, an era, an aura. The Recovery Act was just a bill on Capitol Hill.

      But it was a really big bill, 50 percent bigger than the entire New Deal in constant dollars. It included some New Deal-ish programs, like a $7 billion initiative to bring broadband to underserved areas, a modern version of FDR’s rural electrification. It included another $7 billion in incentives for states to modernize and expand the New Deal-era unemployment insurance system, which was created for a workforce of male breadwinners. Its aid to victims of the Great Recession lifted at least 7 million people out of poverty and made 32 million poor people less poor. It built power lines and sewage plants and fire stations, just like the New Deal. It refurbished a lot of New Deal parks and train stations and libraries. And Republicans have trashed the stimulus as a radical exercise in socialism, just as some Republicans—but not all Republicans—trashed the New Deal.

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