Is $275,000 per job a good deal?

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Joe Klein argues that the Republican talking point that Obama’s stimulus plan will cost $275,ooo per new job created is “phony-baloney propaganda.” I had actually been thinking it was the best anti-stimulus argument that John Boehner’s office had managed to come up with so far (which isn’t saying much, but it’s saying more than “phoney-baloney”). Barack Obama had said the stimulus package would save or create 3-4 million jobs, the current price tag is $825 billion, $825 billion divided by 3 million is $275,000. Obama gave them the numbers. The Republicans just did the math. If they’d been more favorably disposed they could have divided by 4 million jobs and gotten $206,500. Either way, it’s a pretty big price tag.

Is it worth it? Job creation isn’t the only goal of the stimulus package—keeping individuals and state governments spending is another intended result. Also, the 3-4 million job estimate appears to be what Obama’s economic advisers actually came up with, rather than a politically driven made-up number (which presumably would have been much bigger) or even just an extra-hopeful scenario that counts all the potential follow-on effects of lower energy costs, a better-educated populace, etc. That doesn’t mean the estimate is right, but at about 2% of the labor force, it seems reasonable enough. And if those jobs saved or created are permanent and/or above the median household income of $50,000, that $275,000 starts looking better.

What’s more, if you think we might be in a downward spiral in which more economic trouble begets more financial trouble which begets more economic trouble, and so on, a stimulus package that stopped this spiral in its tracks would save a lot more than 3-4 million jobs. That risk of economic implosion is awfully hard to quantify. Although I guess there are a lot of unemployed Wall Street risk modelers around who could churn out an estimate for us.

Update I just want everyone to know that, in a comment to Joe’s post, somebody called our own plukasiak “a bitter Republican.”