And if the problem right now is uncertainty, then these aren't firefighters, they're arsonists.
Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson told Congress he'd spend his kitty of tax dollars on bad mortgage-backed securities. Instead, in the spirit of bold experimentation, he's spent much of it to date buying banks.
Obama insisted he had a specific plan for the economy -- but his plan seems to be to "project confidence."
The problem with this "In Obama We Trust" approach is that it makes private-sector decision-making very difficult. If your boss says he will lay off half his employees next month, but he doesn't know who yet, will you buy a new house this month?
In a time of stability and growth, government can afford bold, persistent experimentation. But in a time of uncertainty, the last thing it needs is more uncertainty. Yet Obama's confident pragmatism, like FDR's, is a threat to confidence where it matters -- among consumers, credit markets and investors.
Yes, letting GM go into bankruptcy would be scary. But a GM bailout merely kicks GM's problems down the road while spreading the fear about where Uncle Sam's big feet will land next. Besides, bankruptcy isn't the end of the world. It's the means by which bad companies restructure to fix themselves. Bailouts are the means by which governments subsidize bad companies.
The engine company in Washington has pumped more than a trillion dollars through the fire hose. It's time to turn off the spigot, not only to see where we are but to let the normal people start fixing things.
By all means, let's hope President Obama will project confidence. But maybe he should express less confidence in the government's ability to get people working again, and more in the ability of regular Americans to rise from the ashes of any hardship. In short, don't just do something, President Obama, stand there.
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