The leading economic forecasters all believe that at its peak the stimulus added about 2-4% to GDP, the difference between contraction and growth, and saved or created about 2.5 million jobs. (“Saved or created” has become a punchline—Obama joked after his annual Thanksgiving pardon that he had just saved or created four turkeys—but it simply means the economy would’ve had 2.5 million less jobs without the stimulus.) Early empirical studies have overwhelmingly confirmed the Recovery Act’s positive effects. And the anti-stimulus approach is flailing in Europe, where austerity in tough times has led to double-dip recessions in Great Britain and Spain.
But the Recovery Act did not just blast money into the economy willy-nilly. It also financed enormous investments in Obama’s agenda, a major down payment on the campaign promises that the media ignored while obsessing about his race and his pastor and the ads comparing him to Paris Hilton.
For starters, the stimulus was by far the largest energy bill in history, pouring a mind-boggling $90 billion into clean energy when we had been spending just a few billion dollars a year. It included unprecedented investments in wind, solar, and other renewables; energy efficiency in every form; a smarter grid; electric vehicles; advanced biofuels; and the factories to build all that green stuff in the U.S. The clean energy industry was on the brink of death after the financial collapse of 2008, but thanks to the stimulus, U.S. generation of renewable power has doubled under Obama. The stimulus is building the world’s largest wind farm, a half dozen of the world’s largest solar farms, and the nation’s first refineries for cellulosic biofuels. It created an advanced battery industry for electric vehicles almost entirely from scratch, financing 30 new factories. And it launched a research agency called ARPA-E, modeled on the Pentagon’s DARPA unit that pioneered the Internet and GPS technology, that’s already creating the clean-energy breakthroughs of tomorrow.
As they say in the infomercials, that’s not all.