Money Well Spent?: The Truth Behind the Trillion-Dollar Stimulus, the Biggest Economic Recovery Plan in History

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Overview


The 2012 presidential campaign will, above all else, be a referendum on the Obama administration’s handling of the financial crisis, recalling the period when Obama’s “audacity of hope” met the austerity of reality. Central to this is the ’’American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009’’—the largest economic recovery plan in American history. Senator Mitch McConnell gave a taste of the enormity of the money committed: if you had spent $1 million a day since Jesus was born, it ...
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Money Well Spent?: The Truth Behind the Trillion-Dollar Stimulus, the Biggest Economic Recovery Plan in History

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Overview


The 2012 presidential campaign will, above all else, be a referendum on the Obama administration’s handling of the financial crisis, recalling the period when Obama’s “audacity of hope” met the austerity of reality. Central to this is the ’’American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009’’—the largest economic recovery plan in American history. Senator Mitch McConnell gave a taste of the enormity of the money committed: if you had spent $1 million a day since Jesus was born, it still would not add up to the price tag of the stimulus package.

A nearly entirely partisan piece of legislation— Democrats voted for it, Republicans against— the story of how the bill was passed and, more importantly, how the money was spent and to what effect, is known barely at all. Stepping outside the political fray, ProPublica’s Michael Grabell offers a perceptive, balanced, and dramatic story of what happened to the tax payers’ money, pursuing the big question through behind-the-scenes interviews and on-the-ground reporting in more than a dozen states across the country.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
ProPublica reporter Grabell puts the "American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009" under a microscope, focusing on its effect in three cities: Elkhart, Ind., whose civic plaza advertised "File Your Unemployment Electronically"; Aiken, S.C. where stimulus money funded the Savannah River cleanup; and Fremont, Calif. home to solar panel startup Solyndra, which received over $500 million. Grabell shares stories of workers who lost jobs and homes, and discusses the impact of the stimulus on goals like increasing Internet connectivity, improving education, and creating green jobs. From an energetic, auspicious beginning, with promises of detailed online tracking and immediate economic impact, the stimulus has played out over two years with some wins (the successful river cleanup created many jobs) and some losses (Solyndra went bankrupt). However, "With money spread so thinly... it was difficult for the public to grasp what the stimulus was about. But it was easy for small projects to capture the media coverage... and overwhelm the narrative the administration was desperately trying to reclaim." Grabell concludes that the problems that were seen nationwide were not a surprise: politics, insufficient funding, and cost overruns. "In this new era, audacity had met reality." This thorough exploration of the stimulus will educate readers about where money went, not just in the focus cities but around the country, and the lasting impact of the Great Recession.
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
From the Publisher

Kirkus, December 1, 2011
“A deeply reported, well-written account of a difficult topic to capture, partly because of the complexity and partly because the stimulus package remains a work in progress.”

Publishers Weekly
“This thorough exploration of the stimulus will educate readers about where money went, not just in the focus cities but around the country, and the lasting impact of the Great Recession.”

Dave Davies,NPR’s Fresh Air
“an important, and eminently-readable book…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.” 

Wall Street Journal
“Mr. Grabell does such a thorough job of cataloging the program's misdirected funds and misplaced priorities that one wonders how he settled on the inquisitive title....’Money Well Spent?’ would make a compelling book-club selection for politically oriented readers.”

The Economist’s Democracy in America blog
“The debate we had about the stimulus probably should have been a lot like the book Mr Grabell has written: a detailed investigation of what does and doesn't work in stimulus spending and whether the government really can jump-start a promising industry through investments, tax breaks and industrial policy. But that wasn't the debate we had.”

Glenn Altschuler, Huffington Post
“Richly detailed, judicious, thorough and timely, his book is a primer on how to evaluate this policy -- and all public policies -- in a highly partisan, polarized, paralyzed political climate.”

Tyler Cowen, Marginal Revolution
“I recommend Michael Grabell, Money Well-Spent?: The Truth Behind the Trillion-Dollar Stimulus, The Biggest Economic Recovery Plan in History. It is a very good journalistic account of how the money was spent, and less scandal-mongering than the title might indicate. I found it to be quite an objective account. There should be more books like this, looking at the nuts and bolts of economic legislation.”

Demos' Policy Shop blog
“The book is effective because it reopens old wounds. We are reminded of the aggravating lawmakers who were neither dogmatically against the stimulus nor inclined to pass a strong bill -- and yet, because Republican support was nearly nonexistent, were the linchpin of the effort.”
 
Dallas Morning News
“Grabell, a former Dallas Morning News reporter now working in New York for ProPublica, does a better job sorting through the competing claims than anyone else writing on the topic yet has… What's especially moving about the book, then, is not its conclusions about the stimulus, but rather the sense of missed opportunities one is left with. There is an impression that too much was left undone in this country - and that feeling, in the end, overshadows the initial judgments readers will make for themselves about whether the stimulus was too big, too small or just a bad idea altogether…. By reading this book, one does more than learn how the Recovery Act was crafted and why it fell short. One learns about the problems it was designed to fix, and about the people who have depended on it…. [Grabell’s]achievement is to give readers more than an intellectual understanding of the arguments that will be shouted across the political divide between now and November.”

Idaho Statesman
“Grabell pulls back the curtain on the stimulus, which tops a trillion dollars when extensions and inflation adjustments are factored in, and provides an insightful analysis of this landmark legislation and its impact on the U.S. economy… The question mark at the end of the book’s title is well placed, as Grabell, a reporter for the independent, nonprofit ProPublica, lays out the still-unfolding story of how the stimulus affected people, communities and the U.S. economy. As the merits of the Recovery Act continue to be the subject of debate, “Money Well Spent?” provides a thoughtful analysis of where the money went and who benefited.”

Businessworld (India)
“Immaculately researched… His conclusions might startle many. It does not matter if you are pro-US or not, grab a copy. It’s a supreme piece of investigative journalism."

Grand Prairie Union News
“For a well-written and objective analysis, Grabell’s Money Well Spent? is a valuable summary of the internal politics and the impact of stimulus spending.”

The American
“Better policy would have produced a better recovery, both broadly and in housing. Likewise, I think bad policy out of Washington made the recovery weaker. I urge everyone to take a look at Money Well Spent? The Truth Behind the Trillion-Dollar Stimulus, the Biggest Economic Recovery Plan in History by Michael Grabell, a reporter for ProPublica.”
 
Engineering News Record
“The depth of research and first-person interviewing by Michael Grabell, a reporter for the non-profit investigative news service ProPublica, is evident… The book provides a one-stop resource for data on stimulus spending and provides many examples of incongruities in aligning funding, politics and real needs—the ‘tension between the timely and the transformative,’ as Grabell puts it.”

Kenneth D. Simonson, Business Economics
“A thoroughly researched, carefully documented, sprightly written narrative… Unlike so many writers about the stimulus program—including many economists—Grabell appears interested in presenting the facts, not his own spin.”

Kirkus Reviews
A journalist investigates the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, seeking to determine whether the Obama administration's effort to ameliorate the previous administration's economic recession has been performing as hoped. ProPublica reporter Grabell began the book after hearing Joe Biden present a speech seven months after Congressional Democrats approved the law without a single Republican vote in the House of Representatives and nearly zero support in the Senate. Because the stimulus involved so much money scattered over so many government programs, Grabell decided to go broad instead of deep in the narrative. He does, however, dig deep in regards to three portions of the stimulus package: providing new jobs in Elkhart, Ind., after the collapse of industry there; the cleanup of an aging nuclear power plant in Aiken, S.C.; and the manufacturing of solar panels in Fremont, Calif., as part of a concerted effort to reduce air pollution across the nation. Some of Grabell's saga is necessarily grounded in previously reported partisan politics, as the newly elected president realized his Republican opposition seemed to be placing his hoped-for election defeat in 2012 above any nonpartisanship that might create new jobs and save existing ones. The author explains how the Republican strategy of fierce opposition led to its takeover of the House of Representatives in the 2010 election. Wisely, though, Grabell devotes much of the narrative to state and local government officials, including K-12 educators, who have been trying to determine how to obtain and wisely spend dollars from the stimulus package. The author concludes that Obama and his team succeeded in saving lots of jobs and creating a modest number of new jobs, but that the Democrats oversold the impact of the stimulus. A deeply reported, well-written account of a difficult topic to capture, partly because of the complexity and partly because the stimulus package remains a work in progress.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781610390095
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs
  • Publication date: 1/31/2012
  • Pages: 416
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.60 (d)

Meet the Author


Michael Grabell has been a reporter at ProPublica since 2008, producing stories for USA Today, Salon, NPR, MSNBC.com and the CBS Evening News. Before joining ProPublica, he was a reporter at The Dallas Morning News. He has twice been a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists. He lives in New Jersey.
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Table of Contents

Introduction ix

Part 1 Recession

1 File Your Unemployment Electronically 3

2 The Ditch 17

3 Let's Make a Deal 36

4 Follow the Money 61

5 No, Thank You 82

Part 2 Recovery?

6 Shovel-Ready 99

7 Recovery Inaction 119

8 One Man's Waste 140

9 Cash for Clunkers 160

10 Jobs, Jobs, Jobs 180

Part 3 Reinvestment

11 The Green Economy 209

12 "The Carrot That Feels Like a Stick" 239

13 The Shellacking 266

14 Connecting the Country 293

15 Sputnik Moment? 314

16 Magic Bullets 339

Notes 361

Credits 373

Acknowledgments 375

Index 377

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 1, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    The economy is improving, but the recovery is not as robust as i

    The economy is improving, but the recovery is not as robust as it could and should have been, contends journalist Michael Grabell. The biggest economic recovery act in history – with an estimated cost of more than a trillion dollars – brought various economic solutions into collision with Washington, DC’s tough political realities, producing middling results. Grabell argues that taxpayers got their money’s worth because the act saved millions of jobs and forestalled another Great Depression. But political miscalculations and poor management hobbled what could have been an even stronger recovery. Whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, a fan of Barack Obama, a member of the Tea Party or an overseas onlooker marveling at the swirl of American politics, this detailed, intelligent overview can help you understand exactly what the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act accomplished and failed to accomplish. getAbstract recommends Grabell’s reporting to anyone who participates in America’s slowly reinvigorating economy or has felt the impact of its ups and downs.

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