Update: For a different take see David’s comment.
Peter Woit made an excellent point in the comments that I want to bring up to the main page and expand on:
In math, a short-term increase in NSF funding of conferences and summer salary is hard to justify, but more money for postdoc positions and graduate student fellowships to keep people employed as university budgets get cut is something that makes a lot of sense.
I think this is exactly right. The main purpose as I see it of a stimulus package (and I admit I don’t really understand stimulus stuff well, it’s not like universal health care where it’s pretty obvious what we should be doing cause you can just travel and see it) is to keep people employed and spending the same way they would be if the economy weren’t tanked. The single best way to do this is to keep people employed in the jobs they would have in a normal economy. This is why state aid is such an obvious component of a stimulus, it keeps school teachers and other state employees at the same jobs they had before the recession and the same jobs they’ll have after the recession.
In math what are the jobs people are losing because of the recession? Yes graduate students and postdocs as Peter points out. But even more than either of those it’s starting tenure track jobs that are getting cut. A quick perusal of the math jobs wiki shows that many more of those searches have been cancelled.
So if I were running the NSF and the math portion of the budget was expanded I would try to increase the number of graduate student and postdoc fellowships (but not their pays, no matter how much I personally would enjoy a pay raise), but my first priority would be to start a program whereby schools can get several years of bridge funds for making new tenure-track hires.