George Will on Sunday gave a much-needed economics lesson to New York Times Washington correspondent David Sanger that greatly demonstrated the difference between how conservatives and liberals view unemployment benefits.
As the Roundtable segment of ABC's "This Week" shifted to the G20 summit in Toronto, Sanger said, "Just the day before [Barack Obama] left, Congress could not come to an agreement on a very small extension of unemployment benefits, you know, the most basic stimulus effort that the President tried to push."
Host Jake Tapper asked, "George, why can't they pass this extension?"
With the ball sitting up nicely on the tee, Will smacked it out of the park (video follows with transcript and commentary, relevant section at 4:10):
DAVID SANGER, NEW YORK TIMES: The President's also in the position in Canada of saying, "Don't do as I do, do as I say." I mean, just the day before he left, Congress could not come to an agreement on a very small extension of unemployment benefits, you know, the most basic stimulus effort that the President tried to push.
JAKE TAPPER, HOST: 1.2 Million Americans are going to lose their unemployment extensions, or unemployment benefits this week.
SANGER: That's right. So there's a fundamental stimulus action and the President had to go up and tell the Europeans they were not doing enough for stimulus.
TAPPER: George, why can't they pass this extension? I don't understand. The Republicans say, "Let spending cuts should pay for this." The Democrats say, "No, it's emergency spending." It seems that this is something where there could be a compromise.
GEORGE WILL: Well, partly because they believe that when you subsidize something, you get more of it, and we're subsidizing unemployment. That is the long-term unemployment, those unemployed more than six months is at an all-time high. And they want, they do not think that it is stimulative because what stimulates is the consumer and the saver's sense of permanent income. And everyone knows that unemployment benefits are not permanent income.
Unfortunately, much of America's media have the same misconception that extending unemployment benefits helps the economy.
Of course, nothing could be further from the truth for those receiving such benefits aren't going to increase their spending because they don't know how long they'll be unemployed. Beyond this, they feel little need to get back into the workforce until their benefits expire.
This means that despite what folks like Sanger believe and write about, extending unemployment benefits has no economically stimulative impact.
As such, calling this extension an economic stimulus is like calling an ox a bull: he's thankful for the compliment, but would much rather have back what is rightfully his.
Nice job, George.