The stimulus discussion goes on and apparently economists think the stimulus was a ‘net plus’. That is based on this survey which I think (?) consisted of only two questions.
The first question is irrelevant to the ‘net plus’ issue:
Question A: Because of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the U.S. unemployment rate was lower at the end of 2010 than it would have been without the stimulus bill.
‘Unemployment at the end of 2010′ is one tiny dimension of economy-goodness (and I would say not even a very important one). Surely it can be true that the stimulus hurt the economy overall (on whatever timescale) and yet that the U.S. measured unemployment was also ‘lower at the end of 2010′ than in the non-stimulus Alternate Universes that economists seem to think their PhDs magically give them access to.
The second question is hopelessly vague (although for some reason this didn’t prevent several economists from answering it confidently):
Question B: Taking into account all of the ARRA’s economic consequences — including the economic costs of raising taxes to pay for the spending, its effects on future spending, and any other likely future effects — the benefits of the stimulus will end up exceeding its costs.
Hold up. Economists answering this question are supposed to ‘take into account’ ALL of the economic consequences? including ‘any’ ‘likely future effects’? Over the timescale of [now to infinity)?
What discount rate are they meant to use? What utility metric? It doesn't say so I guess they just substitute Their Favorite. But hey, here's a possible utility-metric that probably coincides at least some with the metric economists (or anyone else for that matter) is implicitly going to use when answering Hopelessly Vague Questions:
"Policies that I like get scored a utility of One Zillion. Policies I don't like get scored a Zero Zillion."
On that metric, the stimulus had 'benefits' to anyone who subscribes to [ideologies that advocate stimulus]. And if you weight those people pretty high (and who wouldn’t weight themselves highly?) then sure, the benefits will end up exceeding the costs.
Oh, let’s also note that they asked economists to weight their ‘confidence’ in their answers, and then reported the confidence-weighted results too. This is nifty for two reasons:
1) Given that possible choices like ‘strongly agree’ and ‘strongly disagree’ were provided, having the respondent report their confidence also can end up double-counting the confidence of such people.
2) Presumably, the more arrogant economists are more confident in their answers, whether right or wrong. If arrogant economists are systematically biased in the wrong direction, that skews the poll results towards [wrong].
It’s difficult to overstate how meaningless I find such a result. This almost parses down into a poll of some people who happen to be economists’ personal policy preferences, cloaked in the fancy dress of being Expert Judgments (about those Alternate Universes) and therefore somehow meriting added weight. It’s fine that these, like all people have hunches and opinions and preferences about the stimulus and whatever-else, but I give them no added weight and neither should anyone else.