Once upon a time, President Obama was a traditional Keynesian. When he came into office, he favored a massive injection of new government spending into the economy in the name of “stimulus” — counter-cyclical federal activity aimed at offsetting depressed consumer demand emanating from a recession-battered private sector.
Unfortunately for the president, that approach to economic revival has now been thoroughly discredited in the public’s mind. The problem with Keynesianism isn’t the theory; it’s the practice. What happens in the real world — that is, the world in which Congress drafts and passes legislation — isn’t a series of tidy, one-time, highly valuable public investments that would not have occurred were it not for the legislation.
No, when Congress writes stimulus spending bills, what we get are narrow-purpose pet projects, large federal bureaucracies, ideological hobbyhorses, and spending that simply displaces what otherwise would have occurred anyway, especially at the state level. The net result provides little if any boost to aggregate demand because the states — and to some extent private citizens — simply pocket the federal money and reduce their deficits and debts. Meanwhile, what federal taxpayers get is a permanent increase in the size of government — because almost nothing in politics is ever “one-time” — as well as a massive increase in the national debt.