Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Political and Economic Insanity

As I’ve told you, I listen to the Talk of the Nation podcast on NPR.

From the June 13th’s show:

Two Years Post-Recession, Times Are Still Tough

”DAVID LEONHARDT of the New York Times joins us. He writes the Economic Scene column, for which he received the 2011 Pulitzer Prize.”

Great. I’ve never heard of him. I probably should have. I may have. But if I’ve ever read any of his stuff I don’t remember it.

Long, long interview during which I’m watering my flowers. (Note to Leonhardt: Speak up dude. I can’t even hear you over the hiss of the water hose, much less the diesel pickup going by.)

(Everything below is edited for my purposes. If you don’t trust me, listen to the interview yourself.)

”DAVID LEONHARDT -- I think policy did a very good job, first, in the late months of 2008, with the outgoing Bush administration responding seriously to the collapse of Lehman Brothers, and the Fed under Ben Bernanke, all the way through, responding very seriously, and the Democratic Congress in 2008.

And then you had President Obama and his team come in, and they responded very seriously and very aggressively, and so did the Fed - seriously, aggressively, creatively. Not everything they tried worked. But over the course of 2009, they really did arrest this terrible, terrible tailspin we were in. I mean, if you look at the data on things like stock prices, industrial production, global trade, it really did look like the beginning of the Great Depression.”

I concur (mostly).

”DAVID LEONHARDT -- In fact, it's sort of a shame the government isn't doing that. I mean, interest rates for the United States government are incredibly low right now. If you were going to look for the absolute ideal time to go out and, say, try to fix some of our roads and bridges, many of which are not in good shape, and you wanted to say, boy, I want to do this at a time when interest rates are relatively low and when there are a lot of construction workers who might be available to do it. This is that time.”

Sound familiar?

”CONAN: But that might sound like a stimulus.

LEONHARDT: Yes, I know. Stimulus has become a dirty word. So instead, we call it a jobs package. That is what people in Congress have done. I think stimulus actually has a very good record. The great example of not trying stimulus was, of course, President Hubert Hoover. That didn't turn out so well. The biggest stimulus program the United States has ever tried was the mobilization for World War II. That worked extremely well, even better than the things that Roosevelt put in place that did bring down the unemployment rate, as high as it had been.

As I mentioned earlier in this show, I think stimulus worked really well in 2009. The stimulus hasn't worked at all for the United Kingdom or Ireland - I mean austerity, the opposite of stimulus. And then when you saw the government kind of taking its foot off the stimulus accelerator in 2010, the economy weakened again. So stimulus isn't perfect. The bill that was passed in 2009 certainly wasn't perfect. But I think it made a big difference, and I think the problem now is that we don't have enough of that.”

How many times must it be said? How many different people must say it? Even Larry Summers is saying it now -- and I don’t even like Larry Summers. And still...

”CONAN: I think the president was in North Carolina talking about green jobs today, David Leonhardt, and - but I suspect Todd is also right. I don't see Congress or the president pushing for, and the Congress enacting a WPA.

LEONHARDT: Well, a WPA would have no chance in Congress. And Republicans have no interest in direct employment of people by the government. They believe government is too big right now. So you can then get into a debate, should the administration propose things that it knows have absolutely no chance of passing, for the sake of kind of starting a discussion, and moving the discussion. I don't know what the answer to that is. But Republicans have no interest in a WPA.”

Should the Administration propose ideas that will actually work even if Republicans have “no interest” in them? Seriously? Serious people can ask that question and not come up with an answer? Oh, that’s right, he’s a journalist and is bound by a code of ethics. (If only Fox was bound by the same code.) So let me answer. Yes. Make the Republicans defend their position. Let them vote against putting people back to work. That doesn’t sound like a bad political strategy -- even if it wasn’t backed up by a sound economic strategy.

Do you really think unemployed Republican voters would say, “No, I don’t want a government job (with benefits). I’ll just stay on the unemployment line.”?

Did that turn the light bulb on for you? An unemployed voter that got a job from a Democratic Administration? Nooooo, they wouldn’t be grateful. Naw, get serious. They wouldn’t suddenly think that government actually could create jobs -- especially if we were smart and made sure they were doing important jobs. They wouldn’t fall for it. They wouldn’t suddenly see that the Republican Party has been lying to them for 30+ years. Nope. It would never happen.

Gettin’ the Flick?

In order to regain (temporary) power, the Republican Party -- for the moment -- is willing to embrace political and economic insanity.

Don Brown
June 14, 2011

1 comment:

Don Brown said...

There's always that extra thought that pops in your head after you hit the "publish" button.

Imagine if the tables were turned. Imagine it's a Republican Administration and a stimulus package is called for. Would the Republican Party support it?

You betcha.

--"I've abandoned free market principles to save the free market system."

George W. Bush, Washington, D.C., Dec. 16, 2008

Don Brown