Mark Thoma, Economist Who Pushed For Jobs Bills, Gives Up

Mark Thoma, Economist Who Pushed For Jobs Bills, Gives Up

Mark Thoma, an economics professor at the University of Oregon who has long urged Congress to take aggressive steps to reduce unemployment, announced today on his influential blog that he is giving up.

"I've been pushing hard for more help for labor markets for quite awhile," he wrote, "but it's probably time for me to give up and accept that we are going to have a slower recovery than we could have had with more aggressive fiscal policy."

Thoma told HuffPost that what drove him over the edge was a blog post yesterday by Harvard economist Jeff Frankel, declaring the recession over.

With that excuse, "Congress is not going to provide anything more than token help from here forward," Thoma wrote.

Thoma is one of several economists who called for aggressive fiscal policy early and often to get us out of the recession. "Fiscal policy creates demand directly, it does not rely upon incentives and the hope that people will respond to them. When the crisis hit, we needed fiscal policy right away," he wrote.

Congress did finally pass a stimulus bill last February, but that was too little too late, says Thoma.

And now, even if a slow recovery is underway, more stimulus funds could speed it up. "Instead of getting back to full employment by, say, 2013, we could get there sooner if we act now." Thoma drew a picture:

"Why settle for the blue line recovery when the green line is possible?" he asked.

But no. "I'll still complain -- there's no reason to let policymakers off the hook -- but it's time to give up the hope that anything more will be done to help the unemployed find jobs."

Fellow economic blogger Brad DeLong noted Thoma's post approvingly: "He is, of course, right," DeLong wrote. "There is right now a stunning disconnect between an Obama administration that says that unemployment is and will for a long time remain unacceptably high and an Obama administration that is not pushing for policies to boost jobs on the scale needed in a continent-spanning economy."

Job-creation advocates have long been saying that the Obama administration and Congress just don't get it.

Over at his Eschaton blog, economist Duncan Black also chimed in: "I blame the Obama administration to a great degree, as they never made the case for what their fantasy stimulus would actually look like."

Not everyone is giving up, mind you.

Robert Borosage, co-director of the Campaign for America's Future, sent out an e-mail blast this afternoon, urging citizens to encourage their members of Congress to vote for the Local Jobs For America Act, introduced by House Education and Labor Committee chairman Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), which would provide $100 billion to state and local governments to help them create or save one million jobs in education, public safety, childcare, health care and transportation.

But Mother Jones blogger Kevin Drum wrote that Thoma is actually being too optimistic. An appropriately forceful Congressional response to the crisis -- before or during -- was never in the cards. "There was just too much political resistance from an implacable cabal of Republican ideologues, misguided deficit hawks, and weak-kneed Democrats," Drum wrote.

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