Politicians tend to get serious when the economy turns suddenly and snarls. Well, semi-serious -- which isn't bad for people whose livelihood depends on saying things intended mostly to leave an impression.
Let's hope for the best, therefore (while preparing for a measure of disappointment), as the Washington establishment tackles Recession, as in, How-do-we-prevent-one?
The presidential campaign has given the American people a whole lot of economic hot air, evasion and plain old fakery, all of which the various candidates could get away with as long as the banks and the stock market seemed to be bearing up. With the market slumping badly and no one certain that recession can't happen, kick-the-capitalists needs to stop.
That's to say, enough of Mike Huckabee's blarney about "the people who do serve the food, the folks who drive the trucks," as contrasted with "the folks at the top." Enough of John Edwards's promises to "fight" the vested interests, and of Hillary Clinton's rallying cries about "inequality" and a stalled middle class. And of potshots galore from Democrats, their artillery trained on "Big Pharma" and "tax cuts for the wealthy."
One could call this stuff good times rhetoric: things to be said for the sake of moving and motivating voters more -- much more -- than for any other sake. Nor is all such stuff beyond the pale in the good times, given the need never to concede perfection to any human method or contrivance.
When, nevertheless, you get down to designing a stimulus program of the sort that both the White House and Capitol Hill have in mind, it's time to can the demagoguery and get real about what makes an economy run.
Redistribution of income doesn't make an economy run. What does that is the interplay of opportunity and incentive, as latched onto in an environment that seems to assure something like success and -- yes -- profit the bugaboo of the populists. (Except when populists like Edwards are billing their clients for mega-victories in court,)
Tax increases don't make an economy run. Taxes levied beyond any need to pay for particular functions of government diminish investment and the job creation that investment brings.
Generally casting aspersions on economic accumulation doesn't make an economy run. It does make capitalists wary of committing themselves too deeply to endeavors on which government might clamp down.
Threatening to "fight" companies that are breaking no laws -- the pharmaceutical companies have become unlikely if popular villains -- doesn't make an economy run. It invents no products, produces no products, hires no workers, pays no taxes.