Last Friday a story headlined “Japan’s Big-Works Stimulus Is Lesson for U.S.” ran on the front page of. the New York Times.” Let me cherry-pick from reporter Martin Fackler’s dispatch:
“In the end, say economists, it was not public works but an expensive cleanup of the debt-ridden banking system, combined with growing exports to China and the United States, that brought a close to Japan’s Lost Decade. This has led many to conclude that spending did little more than sink Japan deeply into debt, leaving an enormous tax burden for future generations….Most Japanese economists have tended to take a bleaker view of their nation’s track record [than Western economists], saying that Japan spent more than enough money, but wasted too much of it on roads to nowhere and other unneeded projects….In Hamada, residents say the city’s most visible ‘hakomono,’ the Japanese equivalent of ‘white elephant,’ was its own bridge to nowhere, the $70 million Marine Bridge, whose 1,006-foot span sat almost completely devoid of traffic on a recent morning…”
On Sunday morning, Senator John Ensign, a Republican from Nevada, appeared on Meet the Press with three other congressmen to argue President Obama’s stimulus legislation. Ensign didn’t like it.
Host David Gregory: “Senator Ensign, if there is consensus among economists, it’s not about the particulars of the bill but the need to act fast and not delay. Is this bill better than no bill at all?”
Ensign: “I don’t believe that it is. Remember, Japan, during the 1990s, they acted. They continued to act and they had six different stimulus bills, none of which brought their economy out of the severe recession that it was in. As a matter of fact, it’s called the lost decade because they just never grew out of it. And the problem is they didn’t get it right. They built all kinds of bridges to nowhere, roads to nowhere. You need to get it right. You don’t want to spend these precious taxpayer dollars in the wrong way.”
If Gregory were a wise guy, he might have asked the senator, “If the Times hadn’t run its article until tomorrow, how would you have answered my question?” Whatever. My point is that the financially beset Times — whose article, if cherry-picked a little differently, could as easily have armed the Democrats on Meet the Press, isn’t just in on the conversation. It helps drive it.
UPDATE: For more on Senator Ensign and his comments, please see this more recent post: