The Corner

Three Million Jobs: Really?

The White House can repeat these “jobs saved or created” numbers as often as it wants; it won’t make them true. Consider this Business Week report on a study released today by the Council Of Economic Advisers:

The report says the stimulus has “saved or created” about 3 million jobs, and is moving toward a goal of 3.5 million jobs by the end of the year, according to an administration official speaking on condition of anonymity before the report’s release today.

As it turns out, when you unpack the numbers, you find that Romer and her team didn’t actually count how many people got a job thanks to the stimulus. Instead, the number is a projection that relies on the myth that a dollar of government spending creates up to 2.5 dollars of economic growth.

That’s strange. Robert Barro of Harvard University has estimated that, even in the best-case senario, $1 of government spending will generate between $0.40 and $0.70 of economic growth, i.e., much less than the amount of growth that we would get if that dollar was invested privately. What’s more, if that dollar has previously been taxed out the economy, then the overall effect of $1 of government spending is a destruction of $1.10 of economic growth. Not exactly the rosy projections that Romer is touting today. (And Barro is not alone. Even the most optimistic projections of the economic effect of government spending never display such numbers. Never.), which actually counts the number of jobs created (if in a very favorable light), only displays roughly 680,000 jobs, not 3 million. Why would the White House not up that number if in fact 3 million jobs had been created? Because they don’t have names and addresses to back up their gargantuan projections.


The business community itself doesn’t seem to know where these miraculous jobs are. A few weeks ago, the chairman of the Business Roundtable — the association of top corporate executives that has been President Obama’s closest ally in the business community — accused the president and Democratic lawmakers of creating an “increasingly hostile environment for investment and job creation.” The stimulus, they say, is hurting them, not helping:

“In our judgment, we have reached a point where the negative effects of these policies are simply too significant to ignore,” Seidenberg said in a lunchtime speech to the Economic Club of Washington. “By reaching into virtually every sector of economic life, government is injecting uncertainty into the marketplace and making it harder to raise capital and create new businesses.”

Romer, on the other hand, lives in a fantasy world where the administration’s policies will encourage investment:

The economic stimulus legislation pushed by U.S. President Barack Obama last year will help encourage $280 billion of investment by private industry and local governments, according to an administration report being released today.

The analysis, by the White House Council of Economic Advisers, estimates that about $100 billion in government grants, loan guarantees, interest subsidies and tax breaks will be matched almost three-to-one by other spending on clean energy projects, economic development and building construction.

Well, not exactly: The Federal Reserve has calculated that almost $2 trillion of capital is sitting on the sidelines right now, waiting for the government to stop its policy of destruction. The business community is not investing $1.8 trillion because of the uncertainty injected by the government’s policies, including the stimulus.


I am about to release the third Stimulus Facts report based on data, which show that four out of five jobs created were created in the public sector. Remember the promise made by Romer herself when the stimulus was passed, that the bill would create 3.5 million jobs in two years, mostly in the private sector? Almost two years later, 682,370 jobs were reported created, not 3 million, and over 510,000 of these were in the public sector. (My preliminary data is online here; my paper on whether government spending stimulates economic growth is here.)

Basically, the White House can claim all the job creation that it wants. The data show a completely different story. I am testifying before Congress and Rep. Paul Ryan at 1 p.m. to make these points.

Veronique de Rugy — Veronique de Rugy is a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

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