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March 5, 2010

trust in government, trust in President Obama

President Obama took office during a terrible recession whose main scourge has been unemployment. He signed a $787 billion stimulus package, billed as a strategy for creating jobs. One year later, the unemployment rate is still almost 10%.

According to the CBS/New York Times poll conducted on Feb. 5-10, just six percent of Americans believe that the stimulus bill has created any jobs so far (although almost half think it ultimately will). Results in PDF are here. And according to Gallup, Americans believe that 50 cents of each dollar of federal spending is wasted. Since the federal government spends $3.7 trillion per year, that implies $1.85 trillion in total annual waste, or more than $6,000 of waste per person (adult or child).

You would think that a president who presided over a federal government that was understood to have spent three quarters of a billion dollars to create no jobs--a government that annually wastes $24,000 per family of four--would be profoundly unpopular. Yet the president's average favorability rating remains at 52.5%, with 40.5% unfavorable. How can this be?

» Barack Obama's personal style evidently appeals strongly to people. They are blaming Congress, not the president.

» They may show some tolerance for government waste because they also think that other sectors are profligate. (I would like to see a poll that asked what percentage of your power bill, your bank fees, your kid's tuition, or your car's sticker price was wasted.)

» Since the tax code is progressive, the median American is not spending $12,000 on federal taxes. The rich spend much more and pull the mean up. Perhaps people feel that they are wasting a few hundred dollars on ineffective new federal initiatives during the Obama years, and the president is not fully responsible for that cost.

Still, the fact that they observe all this waste explains the headwinds the Administration has encountered. No critique of their strategy or tactics is necessary.

(When I consider how I would answer these poll questions, I come up with the following responses. The stimulus has created jobs, as many as 2 million so far, but other trends are so bad as to leave us near 10% unemployment.

The government wastes money. Interest payments are basically waste, and that eats up 5% of federal spending. The government does not directly waste much money on health care, but it funds a wasteful private health care system to the tune of $829 billion, or 22% of the federal budget. If you assume some waste in other areas (such as defense, which consumes 24% of the budget), you can get to 25 cents of waste on the dollar. Fifty cents seems too high, however, since 26% of the federal budget is simply written as checks for Social Security and Unemployment benefits--and at least some federal medical and defense spending must be valuable. Popular areas like education are so small that they can hardly affect the level of waste.)

March 5, 2010 2:47 PM | category: none



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