Many of the commercials running today are either insipid or insulting, but at least one strikes the right notes. The Domino’s Pizza CEO marches through Washington, D.C., announcing he doesn’t want a bailout. Instead, he says he’ll provide one, in the form of cheap pizzas.
The ad works, because it captures the spirit of the rolling bailouts. There’s so much federal money sloshing around, but nobody really seems to understand where it’s going -- least of all the lawmakers and administration officials who are spending it. And regular Americans aren’t sure all that money will help them. For most of us, a $5 pizza on a Friday night might seem preferable to $500 billion handed to some big company somewhere.
Well, to understand where the American economy is going, it’s important to know where it’s been. For that, let’s turn to “An Empire of Wealth: The Epic History of American Economic Power,” by economic historian John Steele Gordon.
From the earliest days of our constitutional republic, Gordon writes, “The ability of the federal government to borrow huge sums at affordable rates in times of emergency -- such as during the Civil War and the Great Depression -- has been an immense national asset.” That’s true today, of course. Or at least it was true until last year.
In the fall, politicians doled out $700 billion for an initial Troubled Asset Relief Program, followed in February by nearly $1 trillion in “stimulus.” The Federal Reserve has also pumped out cash with abandon. Just this week it sent another trillion or so out the door. The Obama administration also wants hundreds of billions for housing, hundreds of billions for health care and, undoubtedly, hundreds of billions for, well, hundreds of other projects.
This is all in keeping with Gordon’s warning that, “Without exception, wherever politicians have possessed the power to print money, they have abused it, at great cost to the economic health of the country in question.” It seems unavoidable that inflation, something that hasn’t been a concern since the mid-1980s, is set to make a comeback.
The immediate result, of course, is that we’ve seen a federal buying spree. Uncle Sam now owns huge chunks of what was, just a year or so ago, private industry. We taxpayers, for example, own about 80 percent of insurance company AIG. Recently, lawmakers held hearings where they took turns attacking the new AIG chairman (a man handpicked by the Obama administration, by the way) over some bonuses paid to his employees.