Barack Obama says that we have to "jolt" the economy. That certainly makes sense, if you take the media's account of the economy seriously-- but should the media be taken seriously?
Amid all the political and media hysteria, national output has declined by less than one-half of one percent. In fact, it may not have declined even that much-- or at all-- when the statistics are revised later, as they very often are.
We are not talking about the Great Depression, when output dropped by one-third and unemployment soared to 25 percent.
What we are talking about is a golden political opportunity for politicians to use the current financial crisis to fundamentally change an economy that has been successful for more than two centuries, so that politicians can henceforth micro-manage all sorts of businesses and play Robin Hood, taking from those who are not likely to vote for them and transferring part of their earnings to those who will vote for them.
For that, the politicians need lots of hype, and that is being generously supplied by the media.
Whatever the merits of trying to shore up some financial institutions, in order to prevent a major disruption of the credit flows that keep the whole economy going, what has in fact been done has been to create a huge pot of money-- hundreds of billions of dollars-- that politicians can use to give out goodies hither and yon, to whomever they please for whatever reason they please.
No doubt we could all use a few billion dollars every now and then. But the question of who actually gets it will be strictly in the hands of Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. It is one of the few parts of the legacy of the Bush administration that the Democrats are not likely to criticize.
Much as we may deplore partisanship in Washington, bipartisan disasters are often twice as bad as partisan disasters-- and this is a bipartisan disaster in the making.
Too many people who argue that there is a beneficial role for the government to play in the economy glide swiftly from that to the conclusion that the government will in fact confine itself to playing such a role.
In the light of history, this is a faith which passeth all understanding. Even in the case of the Great Depression of the 1930s, increasing numbers of economists and historians who have looked back at that era have concluded that, on net balance, government intervention prolonged the Great Depression.
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