People Like Money

Democrats learned their lesson from Obama’s hidden stimulus and gave people something to celebrate.

Joe Biden stops at the Cone Shoppe to meet Iowa voters in Monticello, Iowa, in April 2019.Melina Mara/Getty

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Do you remember when Barack Obama gave Americans $400 of stimulus money to help them get through the Great Recession? Neither do I. Sadly, that was by design. Democrats, high on a supply of Cass Sunstein nudge-ism, didn’t want you to know they were sending you money. 

A decade and a reality television president later, Democrats have realized that a little garishness goes a long way. On Thursday, President Joe Biden signed a $1.9 trillion stimulus bill. Two days later, people are getting their $1,400 direct deposits from the IRS. One of the few good things on Twitter right now are the posts about the “stimmy” coming from a president who has been labeled MoneyBaggJoe. 

This is all a rather dramatic shift from when Democrats enthusiastically embraced what was termed “libertarian paternalism.” The idea back in 2009 was that, according to some behavioral economics research, people would spend more of their stimulus money if they thought it was extra income rather than a one-off lump sum. So, Obama officials helped devise a system whereby workers temporarily got an extra $45 or so per month tucked into their paychecks. Aside from the paltriness of the sum, it was hard for Democrats to take credit for money whose origin they’d hidden from their infantilized constituents.

The zeitgeist was captured by a 2009 New Yorker piece titled “A Smarter Stimulus.” After a then-obligatory name check of Nobel-winning economist Richard Thaler, James Surowiecki concluded, “If you want people to spend the money, you don’t want to give them one big check, because that makes it more likely that they’ll think of it as an increase in their wealth and save it.” Instead, he added, “you want to give them small amounts over time.” The people are them and the technocrats manipulating them are you

Democrats learned their lesson. “Not only did Dems get you another #stimmy, but we increased the child tax credit to $3000 per child & made it so that you could get a monthly cash advance of this credit starting in July,” Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) tweeted Friday. “Money is money & it will be in your pocket soon! This is incredible! Fighting for more!” Money is money. What an idea.

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