So David Leonhardt of the NYT attempts to explain why the Obama administration was overly optimistic about the economy in its now-infamous “unemployment will not go above 8 percent” forecast:
Here are two possible explanations that the administration was so wrong. And sorting through them matters a great deal, because they point in opposite policy directions. The first explanation is that the economy has deteriorated because the stimulus package failed. Some critics say that stimulus just doesn’t work, while others argue that this particular package was too small or too badly constructed to make a difference. The second answer is that the economy has deteriorated in spite of the stimulus. In other words, the patient is not as sick as he would have been without the medicine he received. But he is a lot sicker than doctors realized when they prescribed it. To me, the evidence is fairly compelling that the second answer is the right one.
Henry Blodget sees it this way:
We suspect Obama, Summers, Geithner & Co. just decided that they had to issue rose-colored projections about the unemployment rate and recovery or they would never have a hope in hell of ramming such huge spending increases through. And if the forecasts proved optimistic? Well, by then, maybe everyone would have forgotten.
My spin: It’s not so much that a more negative forecast would have prevented Obama from spending large amounts of money, it’s that he would have been forced to tilt the stimulus more in favor of tax cuts which work a lot of faster than government spending (though both are pretty inefficient as “stimulus”).
And Obama wanted to spend billions on his “investment agenda (healthcare, education, infrastructure), not tax cuts. (And if he had spent the $2 trillion that some liberals wanted on stimulus, it surely would have crowded out the rest of his agenda, plus rattled the bond markets.) So he gambled that monetary policy would keep the economy from getting as bad as it has. And he lost. Did Team Obama purposely give a bad forecast, or did its old fashioned Keynesian approach merely lead it astray? Good question. Either way, it’s the Obamacrats’ economy now.