When big bank speculation crashed the economy, millions were driven into unemployment. But, according to a new study by two leading economists , the combination of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) loans to banks, loosening of the money supply, and federal stimulus funds for states and individuals, helped stop a far worse potential full-out Depression that would have left an additional 8.5 million Americans without jobs on top of the 8 million who have lost their jobs since the recession started-- what would have been a nearly doubling of the job loss due to the economic crisis.
The study was written by the bipartisan team of Alan Blinder, a former Vice-Chair of the Federal Reserve, and Mark Zandi, a former McCain economic advisor and head of Moody Analytics. One thing the authors emphasize is the sheer magnitude of the economic collapse faced by the Obama Administration as it came into office: In early 2009, "Real GDP was falling at about a 6% annual rate, and monthly job losses averaged close to 750,000." While the lost jobs have not been regained, the economy was stabilized and GDP growth of nearly 3% began. As the authors note:
The stimulus has done what it was supposed to do: end the Great Recession and spur recovery. We do not believe it a coincidence that the turnaround from recession to recovery occurred last summer, just as the ARRA [federal stimulus plan] was providing its maximum economic benefit.
To put the cataclysm faced by the Obama administration in perspective, the economists estimate that the direct budgetary costs of the recession plus lost revenue due to the economic collapse added up to $2.35 trillion, or about 16 percent of G.D.P. By comparison, the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s cost only about $350 billion in today’s dollars.
Federal Support of the States Decisive for Economic Stabilization: With state revenues plunging due to the recession, the authors specifically highlight the importance of recovery funds that went to the states to forestall job-destroying budget cuts. The authors emphasize that "[s]tate and local government aid is another especially potent form of stimulus with a large multiplier," creating economic growth for every dollar spent.
Unfortunately, the federal spending for the states mostly just counterbalanced revenue losses at the state level, meaning the federal aid was a "defensive stimulus" that "saves jobs rather than creates them." The federal government needed to commit to a much larger job creation program to really counterbalance the revenue losses at the state level.
TARP Bank Bailout Program More Successful, Less Costly Than Media Hype: One unique aspect of this report is its focus on quantifying the jobs saved by TARP and related programs to restore credit in the financial industry. The authors estimate that "the financial-rescue policies are credited with saving almost 5 million jobs." And while headlines blared that TARP would cost $700 billion, in fact, most of the money spent was in the form of loans and equity investments, part of which have been repaid. In the end, the authors estimate that the TARP program will end up costing taxpayers less than $100 billion.
The economic success of TARP and related programs in saving jobs should not obscure the fact that the money used could have done even more to improve corporate responsibility in the financial industry. Analysts like Dean Baker at the Center on Economic and Policy Research have rightly criticized  the fact that companies like Goldman Sachs received billions of financial rescue dollars without being required to restrict executive compensation or take many other actions in the public interest. This all emphasizes the need for both the recently passed financial reform law as well as federal and state revenue increases targetting those who benefited from successful recovery programs to help fund job creation for those who still need help.
A Success Despite Program Limits: Still, as Blinder and Zandi argue, the financial rescue package helped to "restore stability to the financial system and to end the freefall in housing and auto markets" just as the ARRA recovery plan saved jobs throughout the economy. 8.5 million jobs saved is only a start in light of the almost 15 million Americans that still face unemployment, but that success was critical in avoiding a Despression that would have turned a challenging budget and jobs situation into a completely catastrophic one.