Paul Greenberg

"Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery."

--Mr. Micawber

It's a sad, and dangerous, thing when governments lose sight of Micawber's Rule, first enunciated in Charles Dickens' "David Copperfield" and demonstrated many times over since.

These days there's a Misery Index (the sum of the inflation and unemployment rates) to measure economic pain. This administration's Misery Index hasn't yet reached the highs achieved by Jimmy Carter's (a yearly average of 20.8 by 1980) but it's still in the double digits -- having hit a monthly rate of 12.8 in June of this year. The average over George W. Bush's two terms was only 8.1, and Bill Clinton's even lower at 7.8.

It seems misery has made an impressive comeback, which is not good news for this president -- or the country. For when a president is in trouble, so are the rest of us.

It's not a pretty thing to watch, a president twisting in the wind, as though caught in forces beyond his control, unable or unwilling to do anything except go on repeating the same mistakes. It takes courage to change course, or maybe just imagination. Whatever qualities he needs to break this dispiriting cycle, Barack Obama hasn't yet been able to summon them.

Instead, this president seems a prisoner of the failed Keynesian faith he's been following all along -- the conviction that the country can spend its way out of hard times. And when times get harder, just spend more.

Barack Obama's economic policies aren't so much a Democratic program as a Social Democratic one. And it becomes even clearer that the European-style agenda he's set out for the country isn't going to work. His $825 billion stimulus didn't do the trick -- despite his numbers games with all those jobs "created or saved" -- or just imagined.

The administration's own TARP (now renamed the Public-Private Investment Partnership) hasn't turned things around any more than George W. Bush's did. It's just resulted in more toxic assets being transferred to the government, that is, to the people of the United States.

Quick fixes like Cash for Clunkers have worked no better than radical moves like nationalizing the automotive industry. (General Motors and Chrysler have yet to be completely denationalized.)

The full effects of Obamacare can't be known till it goes fully into effect, but it's already setting off tremors as businesses eliminate heath insurance for their workers in anticipation of those government-sponsored exchanges that are going to insure so many of us. Whether we like it or not.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.