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The Obama Economy

John on March 6, 2009 at 12:39 pm

After an early boost, it’s another down day on Wall Street. The markets are reacting to the bad jobs numbers (unemployment is now at 8.1%) plus the news that GM is facing bankruptcy. This is personally disappointing to me as I was looking at buying a new GM car this summer. The way things are going, perhaps I should hold off and buy a gun instead.

The Wall Street Journal has two editorials today reacting to the crisis. The first notes:

[E]conomies don’t spiral down forever without a reason and without policy encouragement. What’s worrying about the plunge in equities since January 2, and especially in the last week since Mr. Obama released his radical budget, is that it has come amid the unveiling of the President’s policy agenda. Equity prices have reacted to those proposals by signaling that they expect a much deeper and longer recession.

The second, headlined Obama’s Radicalism Is Killing the Dow, is a bit more pointed:

It’s hard not to see the continued sell-off on Wall Street and the growing fear on Main Street as a product, at least in part, of the realization that our new president’s policies are designed to radically re-engineer the market-based U.S. economy, not just mitigate the recession and financial crisis.

The illusion that Barack Obama will lead from the economic center has quickly come to an end. Instead of combining the best policies of past Democratic presidents — John Kennedy on taxes, Bill Clinton on welfare reform and a balanced budget, for instance — President Obama is returning to Jimmy Carter’s higher taxes and Mr. Clinton’s draconian defense drawdown.

Mr. Obama’s $3.6 trillion budget blueprint, by his own admission, redefines the role of government in our economy and society. The budget more than doubles the national debt held by the public, adding more to the debt than all previous presidents — from George Washington to George W. Bush — combined. It reduces defense spending to a level not sustained since the dangerous days before World War II, while increasing nondefense spending (relative to GDP) to the highest level in U.S. history. And it would raise taxes to historically high levels (again, relative to GDP). And all of this before addressing the impending explosion in Social Security and Medicare costs.

Author Michael Boskin, a Stanford professor of economics, walks through the major areas of Obama’s budget, critiquing them one by one. It’s all worth reading if you have the time. If not, here’s his conclusion:

New and expanded refundable tax credits would raise the fraction of taxpayers paying no income taxes to almost 50% from 38%. This is potentially the most pernicious feature of the president’s budget, because it would cement a permanent voting majority with no stake in controlling the cost of general government.

From the poorly designed stimulus bill and vague new financial rescue plan, to the enormous expansion of government spending, taxes and debt somehow permanently strengthening economic growth, the assumptions underlying the president’s economic program seem bereft of rigorous analysis and a careful reading of history.

Unfortunately, our history suggests new government programs, however noble the intent, more often wind up delivering less, more slowly, at far higher cost than projected, with potentially damaging unintended consequences. The most recent case, of course, was the government’s meddling in the housing market to bring home ownership to low-income families, which became a prime cause of the current economic and financial disaster.

On the growth effects of a large expansion of government, the European social welfare states present a window on our potential future: standards of living permanently 30% lower than ours. Rounding off perceived rough edges of our economic system may well be called for, but a major, perhaps irreversible, step toward a European-style social welfare state with its concomitant long-run economic stagnation is not.

They’re not going to be able to blame this mess on George W. Bush. This is Obama’s economy now.

Related: Charles Krauthammer has a great new column up, The Great Non Sequitur:

Forget the pork. Forget the waste. Forget the 8,570 earmarks in a bill supported by a president who poses as the scourge of earmarks. Forget the “2 trillion dollars in savings” that “we have already identified,” $1.6 trillion of which President Obama’s budget director later admits is the “savings” of not continuing the surge in Iraq until 2019 — 11 years after George Bush ended it, and eight years after even Bush would have had us out of Iraq completely.

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Category: Energy & Economy |

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