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Yet Washington relies on Keynesian economic models that essentially assume that (in a recession) every dollar of government purchases raises GDP dollar-for-dollar — which could be true only if 100 percent of government spending was borrowed from idle savings to create new demand. That is implausible.

Once it becomes clear that government spending only redistributes existing demand, the case for “stimulus” spending collapses.

Yes, government spending can recirculate through the economy via the multiplier effect. But the same dollars would have recirculated through the private economy had they not been lent to Washington.

Yes, in a recession, Washington can spend $814 billion putting idle factories and people to work. But that requires first borrowing $814 billion of spending power out of the private sector, which — by the same logic — will result in idle factories and workers in the locations that financed the stimulus.

In that sense, government spending is the equivalent of removing water from one end of a swimming pool, dumping it in the other end, and then claiming to have raised the water level.

Economic growth requires raising worker productivity to create more goods and services. Government stimulus spending represents a naive “magic wand” attempt to create purchasing power and wealth out of thin air.

No wonder the unemployment rate remains high.

Brian Riedl is Grover M. Hermann fellow in federal budgetary affairs at the Heritage Foundation (www.heritage.org).