Government spending is better economic stimulus than tax cuts

Paul Rosenberg has an outstanding post up at Open Left on a report by Mark Zandi, the chief economist and co-founder of Moody’s Zandi analyzed different types of tax cuts and government spending in terms of "fiscal stimulus bang for the buck."

Click here to view the chart showing his conclusions. Various types of government spending all delivered much more stimulus to the economy than even the most effective tax cuts.

Temporary increases in food stamps carried the most “bang for the buck,” $1.73 for every federal dollar spent. That’s because food stamp money goes into the hands of people who will spend it right away. Not far behind was extending unemployment benefits (which also helps people likely to spend money quickly) and government spending on infrastructure (which creates jobs).

Zandi found that even the government spending that delivered the least bang for the buck, general aid to state governments, still generated $1.38 for every federal dollar spent.

On the other hand, most tax cuts generated far below $1 for the economy for every dollar they cost the federal government. That’s particularly true for the tax cuts Republicans tend to favor, which mainly benefit high-income Americans or businesses. These generate between 25 and 50 cents for the economy for every dollar they cost the federal government.

By far the best tax cut for stimulating the  economy, according to Zandi, was a payroll tax holiday, which generates $1.28 for every dollar it costs. However, a payroll tax holiday still ranked significantly below various types of spending in terms of “bang for the buck.”

Rosenberg created a second chart combining Zandi’s figures with job creation numbers from the Center for Economic Policy and Research. It shows that millions more jobs would be created by $850 billion in spending compared to $850 billion in tax cuts.

Not only does government spending create more jobs and stimulate more consumer spending, it can also accomplish tasks that benefit the community as a whole. For instance, everyone who uses a bridge benefits from maintenance that prevents that bridge from collapsing. Thousands of travelers could take advantage of improved passenger rail service, which would also reduce greenhouse-gas emissions compared to driving or flying. For those reasons, I agree with the Iowa legislators who have advocated more rail funding in the stimulus bill.

Yesterday the Iowa Environmental Council provided another excellent example of how stimulus spending could produce both jobs and cleaner water in many Iowa communities:


For Immediate Release

February 2, 2009

More money needed in stimulus for clean water infrastructure

The Iowa Environmental Council is encouraging U.S. lawmakers to increase clean water infrastructure funding in the economic stimulus plan, now under consideration in Congress. The House version of the stimulus package currently includes $8 billion and the Senate bill $4 billion for clean water infrastructure. The EPA estimated the cost of meeting our clean water infrastructure needs at $580 billion during the last assessment in 2004, according to a GAO report.

In Iowa alone, the Department of Natural Resources estimates water infrastructure needs to be over $618 million over the next two to three years.

According to Susan Heathcote, water program director for the Iowa Environmental Council, 87 of these projects, with a total cost of $306 million, could be underway in three to four months if the necessary funding were made available.

Sixty-six communities in Iowa do not have a public sewer system and 21 communities need help to upgrade their drinking water systems says Heathcote.

“These needs combined with the fact that we could have shovels in the ground as soon as funding becomes available make them perfect candidates for funding under the nation’s economic stimulus package,” said Heathcote.

In letters to Iowa Representative Boswell and Senators Harkin and Grassley, Heathcote outlined Iowa projects that could proceed immediately with available funding:

·         25 communities with sewage treatment plant projects, with estimated needed loan amounts of $165 million.

·         41 small unsewered communities, with estimated total cost of $72 million.

·         21 communities with need for upgrades to their drinking water systems, with an estimated total cost of $69 million.

Heathcote says, in addition to the new water projects outlined above, Iowa communities also need help to address ongoing efforts to separate outdated combined sewer systems and to repair or replace aging sanitary sewer system pipes. Until this work is completed, Iowa communities must continue to deal with the public health threat from frequent failure of sanitary sewer systems that result in discharges of untreated sewage into Iowa rivers.

“While we are addressing our ailing economy, why not make a real investment in clean water?” said Heathcote.

### End ###

Maybe Senator Chuck Grassley, who derides the stimulus spending as “porkulus,” needs to hear from Iowans living in communities with substandard sewage systems and drinking water that could be a lot cleaner. You can reach his office by calling (202) 224-3121.

President Barack Obama and Democratic leaders in Congress need to do a better job explaining to the public that the spending in the stimulus bill would directly boost the economy much more than tax cuts.  

  • the only problem I see

    with the rail spending is that if you look at the proposal, it is mainly meant for long distance travelers; it makes it a lot easier to travel long distances by train, but it doesn’t do much for local infrastructure.  What I think is needed is something proposed by Tara at GPRR:…  A local, commuter rail system in the area.  As I live and work in two separate suburbs, it is virtually impossible for me to use the bus to get from point A to point B.

    • I support both

      light commuter rail and intercity rail. I don’t see why it has to be either/or.

      • both might be ideal eventually

        but it seems to me that a light commuter rail should be the first priority.  This is the proposal that I was looking at:  It would nice to have the connection to Chicago and Iowa City as well as Omaha, but I also would like to see it travel north to Minneapolis and possibly south from Osceola to the Kansas City area as well.

        • people put more miles on their cars

          driving to and from work, so light commuter rail would have more environmental benefits and would do more to reduce oil consumption.

          However, I think there is money to do both if we shift our transportation spending priorities away from building new highways (which takes up the bulk of the federal funding now).

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