Excerpts: Thomas Sowell Stimulus or Sedative?
The fact that politicians call something a “stimulus” does not make it a stimulus.
Abraham Lincoln once asked an audience how many legs a dog has, if you called the tail a leg? When the audience said “five,” Lincoln corrected them, saying that the answer was four. “The fact that you call a tail a leg does not make it a leg.”
That same principle applies today. The fact that politicians call something a “stimulus” does not make it a stimulus. The fact that they call something a “jobs bill” does not mean there will be more jobs. . .
After the Bush administration’s stimulus spending in 2008, business spending on equipment and software fell — not rose— by 28 percent. Spending on durable goods fell 22 percent.
What about the banks? Four months after the Trouble Asset Relief Program (TARP) poured billions of dollars into the banks, the biggest recipients of that money made 23 percent fewer loans than before. A year later, the credit extended by American banks as a whole was down — not up — by more than $20 billion.
Spending in general was down. The velocity of circulation of money fell faster than it had in half a century.
Just two weeks ago, the Wall Street Journal reported, “U.S. banks posted last year their sharpest decline in lending since 1942.” You can call it a stimulus, if you want to, just as you can call a tail a leg. But the actual effect of what is called a “stimulus” has been more like that of a sedative.
Why aren’t the banks lending, with all that money sitting there gathering dust?
You don’t lend when politicians are making it more doubtful whether you are going to get your money back — either on time or at all. From the White House to Capitol Hill, politicians are coming up with all sorts of bright ideas for borrowers not to have to pay back what they borrowed and for lenders not to be able to foreclose on people who are months behind on their mortgage payments. . .
The theory is that, if one thing doesn’t work, it is just a matter of trying another. But, in an atmosphere where nobody knows what the federal government is going to come up with next, people tend to hang on to their money until they have some idea of what the rules of the game are going to be.