...combined. "Barry Ritholtz, the author of âBailout Nation,â points out that this project constitutes the largest infusion in American history. If you add up just the funds that have already been committed, you get a figure, according to Jim Bianco of Bianco Research, that is larger in todayâs dollars than the costs of the Marshall Plan, the Louisiana Purchase, the New Deal, the Korean War, Vietnam and the S.&L. crisis combined." http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/28/opinion/28brooks.html?_r=1 Stimulus for Skeptics By DAVID BROOKS Published: November 28, 2008 Over the past year, the federal government has poured money into the economy hundreds of billions of dollars at a time. It has also guaranteed investments, loans and deposits worth about $8 trillion. Barry Ritholtz, the author of âBailout Nation,â points out that this project constitutes the largest infusion in American history. If you add up just the funds that have already been committed, you get a figure, according to Jim Bianco of Bianco Research, that is larger in todayâs dollars than the costs of the Marshall Plan, the Louisiana Purchase, the New Deal, the Korean War, Vietnam and the S.&L. crisis combined. Is all this money doing any good? The financial system seems to have stabilized, but bank lending is minimal, home prices keep falling, consumer spending is plummeting, and the economy continues to dive. It could be we just have to endure some fundamental adjustments. Housing prices have to reach a new level. Consumption has to settle on a new trajectory. Until those fundamental shifts are made, no federal sugar rush is going to restore economic health. Thatâs not a recipe for doing nothing. Itâs a recipe for skepticism. And it leads to some guiding principles for those designing the $500 billion stimulus plan the next administration seems set on: Donât just throw more money into the sugar rush. Spend money on projects that will enhance the long-term economic health of the country even without a crisis. Do what you would do anyway, just do it faster. To understand how the short-term response might serve the countryâs long-term economic interest, I called up Michael Porter, the competitiveness guru at Harvard Business School. Porter wrote an outstanding overview of Americaâs long-term economic challenges in the Oct. 30 issue of BusinessWeek. Porter wrote that the U.S. economy has historically benefited from several great assets: an unparalleled environment for entrepreneurialism, a tremendous infrastructure for scientific research, the worldâs best universities, a strong commitment to competition and free markets, decentralized regional economies, and efficient capital markets. But, Porter continued, these advantages are starting to erode. The U.S. has an inadequate rate of reinvestment in science and technology. Americaâs confidence in free markets is waning. Lack of regulatory oversight has undermined capital markets. Universities have not sufficiently increased graduation rates. American workers do not have a credible safety net. Regulations and litigation have inflated the cost of business. Most important, there is no long-term economic strategy to organize responses to these problems. I asked Porter how this short-term crisis might serve as an opportunity to address those long-term problems. First, he said, the Obama team will have to avoid a few temptations: Donât just try to throw out money as fast as possible to stimulate demand. Donât spread the spending around too thinly. Donât try to save jobs that are going to disappear anyway. Then he threw out a bunch of ideas that could be part of a stimulus package: Send federal money to the states, but make sure a lot of it goes to state universities. Thereâs going to be increased demand for their services at the same time their budgets are cut. We canât weaken that link in the social mobility chain. Extend unemployment insurance, but also create vouchers and loans so workers can get the skills they need to move on. Extend the Cobra period another 12 months to head off a rise in the uninsured during the recession. Adjust the capital gains rate to give people the incentive to become long-term investors. Right now thereâs a tension between the real economy, which is gradual, and the financial system, which is manic. Low rates shouldnât kick in until an investment is held three to five years. Accelerate depreciation on energy efficient goods and services. Increase tax credits for energy efficient buildings and appliances. Porterâs basic message was that President-elect Barack Obama should do nothing in the short term that doesnât serve a long-term goal. To which I would add just one idea: Create a network of social entrepreneurship investment banks. These regionally operated semi-public funds would invest in the best local community organizations, so they could bring their ideas to scale. These funds, first proposed by the group America Forward, would supplement the safety net and employ college grads entering a miserable job market. Theyâd have a powerful psychological effect on a country that desperately wants to feel mobilized and united. This is a mental recession as well as an economic one. Solving it means getting more and more people involved in a fundamental rebirth.