In a single day in February 2009, Congress voted to spend more than we'd spent on the entire Iraq war to stimulate the economy. Failure to pass the stimulus package would have led to catastrophe, President Obama told Americans two weeks before.
Last year, the argument was that unless we passed the stimulus, we might see unemployment reach highs of 8 percent. National unemployment has since reached double digits.
Every cent of the $787 billion stimulus package will be borrowed money. So far, we've spent just under $300 billion of it. Of the eight million jobs lost during the recession, nearly half have disappeared since the stimulus was passed. It could have been worse, says the White House, which claims that more than two million jobs have been saved or created.
Whatever the case, some of the stimulus spending in North Carolina has been a bit, er, dubious.
Last week, I highlighted the 500 faux jobs to be created with $10 million in stimulus money in Mecklenburg County. The money will be used to pay employers the full cost of "hiring" the workers for a few months. When the stimulus money that will pay their salaries runs out, the job ends.
But at least that's a more straightforward approach than creating jobs by getting monkeys high on cocaine. According to a list compiled by North Carolina's Civitas Institute, $71,623 in stimulus funds will be spent to get monkeys high and study the effects on their glutamate systems. The monkeys will self-administer the cocaine as part of a Wake Forest University study. This will create .43 jobs, according to Recovery.gov.
Wake Forest University will spend another $147,694 in stimulus funds to find out whether yoga can be used to reduce menopausal hot flashes in women, something you think menopausal women could figure out on their own without government help. This will create .07 of a job, according to Recovery.gov.
And the world wouldn't be the same without North Carolina State University's bug collection. The federal government will spend $253,123 preserving and updating it, in the process creating 1.17 jobs.
The state apparently needs dancers, and the stimulus spends generously on them. Four dancers already employed with the North Carolina Dance Theatre will get to keep their part-time jobs thanks to $50,000 in stimulus funds. Meanwhile, UNC-Charlotte will use a $762,372 stimulus grant to design a computer program that can record dance moves and then allow a user to manipulate them on the screen.
The purpose, according to Recovery.gov, is to allow choreographers to "explore interactive dance" without always having to have a full cast of dancers present, which is probably pretty inconvenient for everyone involved. The project will create 1.5 jobs.
And the American Dance Festival, a charity that supports dancers, will get to keep its graphic designer and archivist on staff a little longer thanks to a $50,000 grant that Recovery.gov lists as creating .69 jobs.
Then there's the $492,940 the state will spend to document stimulus spending and educate people about it. This will create .66 jobs.
Exactly how necessary the above projects are with the nation facing its greatest debt crisis since World War II is debatable.
"There has never been a program of this scale that has been moved at this speed that has been enacted as effectively and as transparently as the Recovery Act," President Obama said last week. "I'm grateful that Congress agreed to my request that the bill include no earmarks, that all projects receive funding based solely on their merits. And despite that, I was still concerned, Joe and I were just talking in the back, when this passed we said $787 billion, somewhere, there's going to be some story of some money that ended up being misspent. And it is a testament to Vice President Biden and his team that, as Joe put it, that the dog so far at least hasn't barked."
In case you've lost track of the spending above, that's $1.3 million to create 7.13 jobs, or $187,205 per job. How many hours my 2-year-old will have to work to pay off that debt is unclear. Before we're through, the federal government will spend $8.9 billion in North Carolina, enough to put nearly $1,000 in the bank account of every man, woman and child in the state. Some of it will go for projects that will at least be tangible, like high-speed rail. But I fear that the state and federal government will fritter large chunks of it away on political payola and silly projects that don't reflect the seriousness of the situation our nation faces.
If we spent it wisely, we could wipe out a sizable chunk of the state's road needs for the coming decades or stabilize its aging bridges. Or we let our politicians act like they often do -- like a bunch of monkeys on cocaine.