Tuesday, January 27, 2009

On Economic Stimulus: Don't Worry, Be Happy

Every where I look these days economists are writing about government stimulus to remove us from our recessionary times. ROBERT HIGGS waxes poetic:
"It’s pointless if you make a fuss
About Obama’s stimulus.
The government’s determined, see,
To rescue the economy.
Paul Krugman’s here to point the way
Toward a bright and shining day,
When everyone will be employed
And all consumers overjoyed.
The Fed’s enormous loans will serve
To calm the frightened banker’s nerves,
And Congress will serve pork and beans
To cronies fat, to peasants lean.

* * *

We’ve no need to panic, the world’s in good hands.
Financial details, Old Ben understands.
He’ll huff and he’ll puff, and he’ll spew dollars out,
He won’t stop to rest till he’s quelled every doubt
That dollars created from thin air each session
Are all that we need to steer clear of depression."
STEVE HORWITZ warns that he smells a rat:
"One of the (correct) complaints about the proposed stimulus plan is that it's full of all kinds of programs that would appear to have nothing to do with any accepted economic theory about what sorts of spending could even possibly lead to recovery. The best example of this is the funds for family planning policy that are in the bill. Of course to those who understand public choice, none of this is a surprise. One good argument against a stimulus package is that any package will necessarily have more pork in it than the Dinosaur BBQ.

That all said, I think there's something else at work here. This isn't just your run-of-the-mill pork. What we are seeing happen right now is that Congress sees this crisis as an opportunity to enact a whole variety of programs that they've wanted to pass for years, especially (but not only) the Democrats who no longer fear a veto, and now finally have the chance. Just as the Patriot Act was a bunch of laws waiting for a political 'crisis,' so is much of the stimulus package a bunch of programs waiting for an economic 'crisis.' The current crisis is just a convenient excuse.

[ . . . ]

Bottom line: the more that those of us who are skeptical continue to even refer to this as a "stimulus" plan, the more we play into the other side's hands. This isn't a stimulus package, it's a whole bunch of programs designed to extend the state's role in the economy and in our personal lives, and to do so at enormous cost to us, and to our children and grandchildren. Let's challenge the rhetoric of fear and crisis and name this for what it is: the current majority's attempt to do exactly what the Bush Administration did post-9/11, which is to use fear and crisis to pass programs that will impoverish us and curtail our freedoms, and to do so with the minimum of serious debate possible."
Non-economist DICK MORRIS captures the Horwitz warning with a charming image:
"But Obama’s strategy is to hide inside the Trojan Horse of stimulus an army of radical measures to change America permanently.

The most pernicious of his proposals will be the massive Make Work Pay refundable tax credit. Dressed up as a tax cut, it will be a national welfare program, guaranteeing a majority of American households an annual check to “refund” taxes they never paid. And it will eliminate the need for about 20% of American households to pay income taxes, lifting the proportion that need not do so to a majority of the voting population. Unlike the Bush stimulus checks, this new program will be a permanent entitlement, a part of our budget that can only go up and never down. Politically, it will transform a majority of Americans from taxpayers, anxious to hold down government spending, into tax eaters, eager to reap new benefits."
If you would like to see for yourself just exactly what Congress calls economic stimulus, then you should check out the web site READ THE STIMULUS. Be sure to open the SPREADSHEET you can find there.

But don't worry, be happy. After all, our great, powerful, and wise democracy has spoken.

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