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Ringo And The Politics of 'Hope'

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At noon, for his 70th birthday -- July 9 -- Mr. Ringo Starr said he was praying we'd all "put [our] fingers up and say 'Peace and love.'" Sounds like as pat a formula as any for coping with the Taliban and the Iranians: akin to praying that economic recovery might begin with fingers-in-the-air calls for higher taxes and tighter government regulation.

The Starr plan for world peace assumes if we really believe something, and say we believe it, all at the same time, the right things start to happen, regardless of probabilities. That you restore economic growth by giving government a larger share of the fruits of growth is an identically nutso notion. You have a constitutionally protected right to believe it. You just shouldn't hold your breath while awaiting its fulfillment.

What with Democrats unable thus far to deliver job growth, assertion becomes the White House's mode of discourse: first, that Democratic recovery strategies "are working"; second that we're in charge of this show -- we, your government.

When the Bush tax cuts expire on Jan. 1, 2011, and the government helps itself to larger rewards from private work and investment, we're assured all it means is, "the wealthy" will share with the rest of us more of their ill-gotten gains. Financial regulation -- headed for the president's desk not long after the end of Congress' July 4 recess -- supposedly benefits the nation by reining in the Wall Street operators.

We have to step back a few feet in order to appreciate how unreal Washington, D.C.'s, current approach is to economic recovery. The idea is, in good Chicago fashion, circa 1929, to muss up the wealth-makers: push 'em around a little on the theory they'll work harder at cranking up the recovery. It's a pleasant enough theory -- like the expectation that the hard hearts of Iran's Revolutionary Guards will melt upon hearing calls for peace and love. Disappointingly, a more common image comes to mind; to wit, leading a horse to the water you think he needs isn't the same as making him drink. It's up to the horse in the end, as it's up to the producers of wealth to decide which job and investment policies make sense to them.

Democrats are so ecstatic over Republican opposition to financial regulation that they can't wait to campaign this fall on the theme of Wall Street versus Main Street. Yum. Won't the voters eat that up with a spoon? Some may. Others may reflect, if they don't know it intuitively, that the worst way in the world to get people to do things is to penalize them. So with tax increases and regulations. Milton Friedman was famous for, among other things, noting that when you want more of something (e.g., investment, expansion) you reward it; when you want less, you penalize (e.g., tax or regulate) it.

Penalties and restraints on investment will lower a U.S. jobless rate of 9.5 percent? Why would anyone in his right mind think so? Possibly no one would, save for the truest of true believers in government control. Then how come? Is sticking it to "fat cats" just a strategy to make labor unions happy, along with various other parties hostile to "Wall Street"? So chilly toward business is President Obama that he apparently thinks it fine to bluster about kicking rear ends and such like as punishment for the act of objecting to his economic theories.

Nothing new in that, perhaps. A couple of years ago, "folks" (Obama terminology for "people") were glad to put up their hands as they went on -- and on -- about "hope and change." Nice words: on a par, certainly, with "peace and love." The candidate who invoked hope and change as the underlying rationale for his coming ascendancy didn't understand, or just possibly didn't care much about, the intractable nature of reality: that's to say, about things that don't just happen when you put up your fingers and ... oh, well, happy 70th anyway, Ringo.

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