Biden Learning From the Unrealistic Expectations of Past Economic Stimulus Efforts

Taking lessons from his time working in the Obama administration, President Biden is tempering promises of quick job creation with long-term reinvestment.

2 minute read

June 7, 2021, 5:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Eleanor Roosevelt talking with a project superintendent in Des Moines, Iowa. June 8, 1936. This project, sponsored by the Works Progress Administration, planned to convert a city dump into a water front park.

FDR Presidential Library & Museum / Eleanor Roosevelt at a WPA Project, 1936

Learning from his experience as vice president, Joe Biden knows that "you can’t expect immediate results" when it comes to infrastructure spending and job creation, writes Jake Blumgart for Governing. "[H]istorically, public works projects have a complicated history when it comes to quickly getting a lot of people back to work." That makes infrastructure spending "bad stimulus spending" despite its long-term benefits. 

The concept of "shovel-ready projects," a term popularized by President Obama in late 2008, proved deceptive. Research shows that in most areas of governance, "it took at least one year to set up a project and another two to three years to actually spend the money." Learning from these prior experiences, President Biden is taking a longer view. "The Biden administration’s rhetoric around the American Jobs Act is, obviously, about job creation. But the $2 trillion plan is not about juicing the economy in 2021, or even in the crucial midterm election year of 2022. Instead, it is meant to unfold over the course of a decade." 

The public works programs of the New Deal era, according to Jason Scott Smith, assistant professor of history at the University of New Mexico, "are better understood not as unsuccessful state-employment measures, but rather as a strikingly effective method of state-sponsored economic development." By framing the American Jobs Act as long-term reinvestment, Biden is avoiding the "poor job of setting out expectations" that plagued the Obama administration.

Monday, June 21, 2021 in Governing

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