Carl Horowitz

The $787 billion economic stimulus package passed and signed into law last month had any number of co-sponsors in Congress, but in a real sense its main author was someone deceased for more than 60 years: John Maynard Keynes. The measure, and proposals subsequent to it, represent a tribute to a highly flawed, though highly original thinker. They also speak of a larger ongoing and recent pendulum shift in theory and policy.

Much has been written, and deservedly so, about President Obama’s sense of racial grievance; his radicalism; his circle of Chicago friends and fixers; and his intense identification with Abraham Lincoln. Yet only recently that level of attention has been given to his worldview, all but in name Keynesian, to the current economic crisis. The president and his neo-Keynesian top economic advisers – Lawrence Summers, Timothy Geithner and Christina Romer – have made clear by their actions that they view the private sector, left to its own devices, as incapable of sufficiently investing in education, health care, infrastructure, energy and other areas of national well-being. They warn that in absence of a greatly expanded public sector, the current business downturn will be even more prolonged and painful.

In his February 24 speech to Congress, Obama remarked, “Now is the time to jump-start job creation, restart lending, and in invest in areas like energy, health care and education that will grow our economy, even as we make hard choices to bring our deficit down.” Coming from a president, such words sound familiar. Bill Clinton incessantly justified his domestic program proposals as “investments.” George W. Bush didn’t, but he arguably did more in his last half-year in office to socialize the U.S. economy than any administration (including his own) had done during the previous 40 years. Actions speak louder than words.

Barack Obama, contrary to his manicured image as a “pragmatist,” is marked by certitude and grand vision. His flag is of bold colors, not pale pastels, and flies leftward. He’s making explicit, and seeks to make permanent, the ad hoc “new” New Deal instituted by his predecessor. By election eve, the Keynes revival already was well in evidence. Writing in Time magazine (November 3, 2008), columnist Justin Fox observed:

Carl Horowitz

Carl F. Horowitz is director of the Organized Labor Accountability Project of the National Legal and Policy Center, a Gold Partner organization dedicated to promoting ethics in American public life.
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