The third quarter’s 3.5 percent growth rate drew cheers from a White House eager for data validating its economic policies. Certainly, growth is better than recession. But a number of analysts quickly pointed out the third-quarter figure was heavily inflated by one-time government spending — cash-for-clunkers, new home buyer tax credit — that overstated the truth health of the economy. One analyst told Reuters’ James Pethokoukis real economic growth probably was closer to 2 percent, which is poor compared with the way economies coming out of recession have performed historically.
The real test will be how much the economy grows without special government spending. While the $787 billion stimulus nudged the economy away from a possible depression, Pethokoukis writes, it wasn’t structured (two-thirds spending, one-third tax cuts) to launch a robust recovery. As a result, a number of experts think high unemployment will persist and be a drag on more rapid growth — allowing those who called for more tax cuts to say, we told you so.
Back during the Bush administration it always seemed petty when it was implied George W. Bush somehow was being derelict when he took time off from work to chill out at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. The line of questioning to his press secretary would go something like, “How can the president justify taking a vacation when the country is at war, the economy’s a mess and there are starving children in Darfur?” Similarly, the press is gigging President Barack Obama for the number of times he has played golf since taking office — 24 in just over nine months, to be exact. CBS’ Mark Knoller tweets that it took Bush nearly three years to play that much golf. There’s just no rest for the weary — or golf, either.
OK, what if there was a stimulus but nobody noticed? Top White House economist Christina Romer told a congressional committee this week the $787 billion stimulus package passed earlier this year already has had its biggest impact on growth and probably won’t help much next year. Although only about $200 billion of the package has been spent, the rest won’t drive expansion next year, Romer said. That’s especially bad news for the nearly 10 percent of Americans without jobs. It’s bad news for taxpayers, too, because the stimulus was sold as an emergency measure to perk up the economy. Instead, it appears there was a little stimulus and a lot of something else — all billed to the country’s credit card. Meanwhile, Romer said unemployment will remain high through the end of 2010, which begs the question of how much worse joblessness and other economic statistics would have been without the stimulus and all the extra debt that came with it.
Congratulations and best wishes to basketball coaching legend John Wooden, who turned 99 this week. Besides his on-court achievements (10 NCAA championships at UCLA), Wooden is notable for an approach to life many of his former players say was more important than anything he taught them about basketball — captured in aphorisms such as “never mistake activity for achievement,” “ability is a poor man’s wealth” and “be quick but don’t hurry.” Another Woodenism reflects his sense of self: “Talent is God given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful.” Short and to the point, John Wooden’s timeless way.
Members of the Nobel Peace Prize committee must have missed last week’s “Saturday Night Live” skit in which an actor playing President Barack Obama ticked off a long laundry list of non-achievements. No worries. The Nobel people awarded Obama the prize anyway, suggesting it was more for what Obama promises for the world than anything he’s achieved. It’s the only plausible rationale, because the Nobel application deadline came less than two weeks after Obama took office. Nobel’s highest-profile prize is its most political and often serves as a platform for its left-leaning views. “It’s the committee’s preaching to America — this is the way to go,” former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton told Fox News. The White House didn’t try to hide the fact it was caught completely off guard. Hours later, Obama offered humble remarks, saying he didn’t consider himself as worthy as other past winners. Still, not bad for a fledgling presidency more noted for flowery speeches than concrete accomplishments, which prompted one Web wag to ask, “What’s next? The American League Cy Young Award?” Funny.
Kudos to the White House staff for its wardrobing efforts this week before a presidential photo-op with doctors designed to build support health care reform. The New York Post reports about 150 physicians were invited to pose in the Rose Garden as President Barack Obama made another pitch for his proposals. The idea was to have a sea of white-coated doctors serving as the backdrop for Obama’s statement, indicating physician support for his ideas. The doctors were invited to wear their lab coats for the event, but some apparently forgot. No problem! The Post reports the White House staff had requisitioned spare coats for those who showed up in business suits or dresses. No word on whether the docs got to keep the white coats as White House souvenirs.