The Stimulus Plan – bigger than the moon race

    That’s right. Even adjusted for inflation, the stimulus program was bigger than the Marshall Plan, the Manhattan Project, the Louisiana purchase, and five times more expensive than the Works Progress administration launched by FRD to combat the Great Depression.

    That’s just one of the insights offered in an important, and eminently-readable book from Pro Publica investigative reporter Michael Grabell about the Obama stimulus program.

    He has all kinds on inside details – like the fact that all of Obama’s economic brain trust was crammed into the coach section of a commercial airplane in December, 2008, headed to Chicago to huddle and try and figure out how to save the economy. And that a claim Republican critics have thrown in Obama’s face – that with the stimulus unemployment wouldn’t rise above eight percent – was an off-handed estimate thrown into a chart by advisor Christina Romer which was posted on the Internet and took on a life of its own.

    But the real value of Grabell’s book is that it digs into the meat of the plan – how it was crafted, how the spending was divided into strikingly different programs, and what their impacts were.

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    He takes you inside real communities devastated by the recession and introduces you to real people – including a factory worker in Elkhart, Indiana who voted for McCain in 2008, lost his job, introduced Obama at a stimulus rally at his plant, got several part-time jobs but never recovered his income, and ended up with pictures of both Obama and Glenn Beck in his home.

    Grabell looks into Republican claims that the stimulus funded ridiculous projects like a tunnel for turtles in Florida, and gets deeply into some of the administration’s fiascoes trying to fund clean energy projects.

    And he takes a fair look at the big questions – how much the program helped and whether it was worth it. Bottom line: it created or saved millions of jobs and kept the recession from being much worse, but the ways it was planned and implemented made many of its achievements invisible to a lot of voters.

    I recommend the book, called Money Well Spent?, but you can get a sense of it by listening to my interview with Grabell today on Fresh Air. It airs at 3 and 7 on WHYY-91FM. And you can listen, download a podcast and get more information at the Fresh Air website.

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