At the National Review, Rick Hess and Checker Finn denounce the Obama administration for using stimulus funding to save the jobs of 400,000 teachers and college professors on the grounds that…this was a bad idea. Really:
It’s a fact that employment was an explicit purpose of stimulus funding — Congress said as much — and with today’s jobless rate over 10 percent, only a churl would deny the humanitarian value as well as the political appeal of this. That said, well-run public organizations and private firms are using the economic crisis to purge weak performers, cherry-pick talent, and position themselves to be more productive going forward. Turning schools into a jobs program is a dubious way to tone them up for the 21st century.
As everyone knows, the principle goal of an economic stimulus package is neither humanitarian nor political but economic. The economy was in a terrifying free-fall earlier this year, not just in this country but worldwide. People in a position to know were afraid that we were headed for a global recession. In that situation, it’s vitally important to avoid pro-cyclical job losses–unemployment that dampens consumer demand and thus leads to more unemployment. That was the whole point of the stimulus. And it worked! The pace of job destruction slowed dramatically and economic output began to rebound. In retrospect, the biggest problem with stimulus package is that it was probably too small.
Yet Hess and Finn are apparently perfectly comfortable with misery on a global scale as long it means we can wash public education in the cleansing fires of austerity. There’s a long and ignoble history of this kind of thinking on the right, Herbert Hoover being the most obvious example. It has a certain tinge of moral righteousness , a sense that people and institutions need to suffer from time to time, for their own good. These arguments tend to get made by people whose own jobs are perfectly secure.
Hess and Finn concludes as follows:
The teachers who are beneficiaries of the grants are surely grateful. Their unions are undeniably pleased. But this is not the audacious change that was promised — and that is needed. Indeed, the 50 million young people who will end up repaying these 97 billion borrowed dollars might want to inquire about a refund.
Again, there’s a failure to recognize basic economics here. The amount of future money today’s young people will have to pay for debt or anything else isn’t fixed. If we manage the economy well today, we’ll have more money tomorrow. If we don’t–by, say, standing by while schools lay off hundreds of thousands of teachers in the teeth of an incipient Great Depression–we’ll have less. The whole point of borrowing money to prop up demand is that it’s a net gain, economically. Today’s young people will live in a more prosperous world than they would have otherwise and thus they’ll be able to pay the 97 billion back.