Liberal New York Times economics reporter turned left-wing editorial board member Eduardo Porter has published his first “Economic Scene” column, taking over from David Leonhardt, who is now Washington bureau chief.
Porter is known at Times Watch for his embrace of Occupy Wall Street and for calling Mexican media mogul Carlos Slim a "thief" and "robber baron" in a 2007 editorial -- before Slim loaned $250 million to the NYT Co. and became, in the words of Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger, "a very shrewd businessman with an appreciation for great brands."
His debut column was more sedate but showed why he was picked to fill Leonhardt’s neo-liberal shoes for "Economic Scene," (which often appeared on the front page as news analysis during Leonhardt's tenure) defending Obama’s stimulus despite Republican claims the money could have been spent more efficiently: “Stimulus Is Maligned, But Options Were Few.”
It was the winter of 2009 and the United States economy was shrinking. In the last three months of 2008 the economy had contracted at an annual rate of 8.9 percent, the sharpest decline in more than half a century. It shrank at a 6.9 percent rate the next quarter. By February 2009 the country had lost more than five million jobs.
We know what President Obama did. In February, he pushed Congress to pass the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, an $831 billion fiscal stimulus package aimed at creating demand for goods and services to reignite growth and stop the downward spiral.
Only three Republican senators voted for the bill -- Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe and Arlen Specter (who as a result of the vote had to change parties). Since then, Republicans have condemned the legislation as an unmitigated disaster. “These policies have made our economic woes worse,” the House speaker, John Boehner, wrote earlier this month on the third anniversary of the bill’s enactment. They “left millions of Americans out of work and made the future of job-crushing debt even more daunting for our children and grandchildren.”
There were alternatives. After an initial experiment with government stimulus in 2009, many European countries reversed course and slashed their budgets to try to restore fiscal balance, in the expectation that this would reassure businesses and investors that government finances were under control, and give them the confidence to invest and bolster the economy. But so far, these policies have proved to be an unmitigated disaster.
By comparison, despite criticism of its size and composition by both the right and the left, the stimulus by the Obama administration did add to jobs and growth. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates it will have contributed at least 1.6 million jobs and perhaps as many as 8.4 million by 2013.
Porter insisted a Republican alternative “heavier on tax cuts and lighter on government spending” “would have delivered less bang for the buck.