Monday, March 2, 2009

The Politics of Doing Nothing

Fundbaby was the big winner this past weekend - at least with my parents. We took the little bugger to visit Grandma J, Grandpa G, and Unkle Rorie and he pretty much never hit the ground. Of course when we got home last night he brazenly expected this situation to continue..........that was pretty inconvenient for us at 5 am this morning. But all in all it was a great time - until the discussion turned to politics.

My Dad and I have never agreed on much of anything politically - and it's gotten worse since the recession began. We could agree on how much we hated George Bush, but we've reacted pretty differently to just about everything Obama has done since he's been in office.

Maybe because my Dad does some work with a bank, he's not opposed to bailing out banks. Maybe because he has some stock in Citibank, he doesn't see any problems giving them money either. And perhaps some of the work he does with a parts supplier to GM has skewed his view of helping Detroit as well, or maybe it's his love of big American cars. Still one has to tread lightly about pointing out such conflicts of interest when someone is holding your son while you are sipping coffee and reading the morning paper.

When we did get around to arguing I felt pretty stupid all weekend because my canned response, that we let things work themselves out without massive spending programs, to all of his views about this blizzard of government action and activity sounded so hallow and callous. "We have to do something!" he'd declare, and if the first few things didn't work we'd try other things. Why didn't I want to help people in trouble with their mortgages? Rick Santelli was a get the idea.

Of course unlike many of the talking heads and academics spouting off about our current problems my Dad did live through the Great Depression and can remember bread lines and other such stuff. His family's business survived, but times were tough and the impact of the New Deal was pretty profound on him and his generation.

Setting aside the economics of the spending spree and all of the proposed bailouts, I have to say that politically those of us firmly planted in the skeptic camp about the morality, efficacy, efficiency, and wisdom of all this government largess look like country bumpkins arguing that we need to do less, not more.

When the levy is breaking, you don't sit around and watch the water rolling in and hope the levy will fix itself. When planes flip out of control pilots rarely cross their arms and wait for the aircraft to right itself. Patients who are sick want doctors to take action to help.

The problem is that those types of analogies just don't work when the system that's having problems is self-correcting, as markets often are, the "pain" from the problem is not evenly distributed, and most importantly POLITICIANS not engineers or doctors or pilots are the ones saving us. And let's not forget that economics is not as advanced as engineering or aerodynamics today. And in my view, economics looks a lot like medicine did in the 18th century when going to a doctor was likely to get you killed.

The economics of recession are bad, but they are not universally bad, and unless we are really sure about the effectiveness of a potential "cure" it sure doesn't hurt to look at the cost of the "cure." The equation gets scary bad when someone from Washington shows up to help. But even if politicians were not involved in politics, the really key issue is that I believe the "cure" might be way worse than the disease, more expensive in the long run and will definitely have all sorts of unintended effects than we cannot foresee.

But the politics of being principled and saying, "I'm skeptical that all of this government will make things better," is usually not popular and easily ridiculed during crises because no one gets elected by saying "Let's do nothing." Hence this column by Frank Rich on how Obama should "savior this moment" when some folks are pleading we do less rather than more. He savagely attacks folks like Bobby Jindal (in ways I doubt anyone on the right would be allowed to do to a person of color) and Mark Sanford for wanting to do less based on their long held principles that government doesn't help things.

By pointing out that both are from poorer states he managed to score points about how callous they look. When he describes both of them as outdated he seems to be saying how those policies of "getting government out of the way" have failed - miserably.

As I've regularly noted, Bush spent more than any president in U.S. history - until Obama, so it's not as if this crisis was preceded by limited government. We also have experienced an explosion of capitalism throughout the world that has benefited a lot of people in places like China and India - something the left likes to ignore.

If former communist regimes throughout Eastern Europe and Asia are sticking with relatively free markets, why are we running from those positions? Is it because capitalism failed or because the politics of an advanced democracy provide the opening for political entrepreneurs to dole out gifts to their allies and supporters at the expense of the rest of us, whether it Halliburton, or the SEIU?

I hope Obama and his people get this "cure" right, but I fear that all they are doing is making the patient sicker and granting gifts to their friends and allies. Either way those of us who are openly contemptuous of government in general are living in tough times when letting nature take its course is viewed with scorn.

No comments:

Post a Comment