There’s lots of monkey business in the White House 

It’s absolutely nutty, you know, this business of giving cocaine to monkeys as part of a stimulus bill that hasn’t stimulated anything outside of cages, least of all job creation. But, there’s something nuttier still. That’s the Obama administration’s justification of the project.

Here’s the thing, we’re told: The $71,000 experiment, disparaged in a Republican report as one of 100 pieces of pork punishing employment-seekers, could teach us something about human addiction. My goodness, just think of all the economic benefits that could flow from that.

Sorry, but the response misses the point of what a stimulus is about, helping you to understand why an important member of President Barack Obama’s economic team is scooting from the scene. Though hardly an innocent herself, Christina Romer knows the stimulus was meant to have an immediate economic impact and surely gets it that scientific research is about long-term impacts that may or may not eventuate. Research for the future and stimulus for today’s needs are two vastly different things. Period. End of story.

Well, not really the end of the story, because Romer, who’s supposed to be Obama’s chief economic adviser, could once have told you that stimulus packages seldom if ever do any good even if nonpolitically assembled. Articles tell us she’s done research showing the New Deal fiscal spending did something like zip, zero, nada in ending the Depression and that recessions ordinarily wind up much more quickly if governments shy away from of such let’s-pretend remedies.

Sadly, she betrayed those insights in initially bragging about the stimulus package that cost as much as the war in Iraq. Did she finally come to her senses? We’re told by a National Journal reporter that she’s quitting Sept. 3 because she was not getting as much presidential access as she wanted. My own guess is that hers was becoming a voice of caution that received insufficient attention.

Another departing official, Peter Orszag, director of the Office of Management and Budget, apparently intended from the start to leave after a couple years of that job’s inevitable strain. He, too, was all for the stimulus. But, he insisted that you cannot ride the bucking bronco of deficits forever. He shuddered at increasing the current debt by $9 trillion during the next 10 years, saying you’ve got to adopt strategies of restraint.

More specifically, he advised spending cuts, and what we got mostly from others on the Obama team was wink, wink, nudge, nudge, spend, spend and continue to spend.

Others refuse to desert the sinking Obama ship, including Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who points to various positive signs in the economy. And yes, there are some. Sadly for all of us, the negative signs overwhelm them — the unemployment rate tells us of fellow citizens made miserable by this slow poke recovery. A buoyant Obama assures us his policies scared away a depression. Nope. Meet John Taylor.

An economics professor at Stanford University who has conducted a study on the question, Taylor has observed that little that has been done on any federal front in the final year of George W. Bush’s presidency and since then has accomplished much. Low Federal Reserve interest rates helped get the recession started. The stimulus was meant to jump-start consumption, but did no such thing. Improvements in business investment cannot be traced to the government. The worry about debt and other uncertainties about policies are now deterring growth.

Given what else we may still face from this administration, a strange, weird vision comes to mind, one in which coke-snorting monkeys note the openings on the economic team and manage to communicate advice to politicians that would be economically ruinous but keep them supplied with drugs. They find to their delight that it’s gladly accepted as still more evidence the stimulus worked.

Columnist Jay Ambrose has been Washington editorial policy director for Scripps Howard newspapers and editor of dailies in El Paso and Denver. He can be reached at

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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