Money Well Spent? (Hardcover)

The Truth Behind the Trillion-Dollar Stimulus, the Biggest Economic Recovery Plan in History

By Michael Grabell

PublicAffairs, 9781610390095, 416pp.

Publication Date: January 31, 2012

List Price: 28.99*
* Individual store prices may vary.


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.

About the Author

Michael Grabell has been a reporter at ProPublica since 2008, producing stories for USA Today, Salon, NPR, 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.

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

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.”

Coverage from NPR