Gutting it out

Posted: Jun 05, 2011 12:01 AM

Savannah Guthrie is awfully cute. Smart, too. Not as cute or smart as my missus (by a long shot — don’t try to cause trouble), but still.

Last Thursday, on Guthrie’s second-to-last day on MSNBC’s The Daily Rundown (she’s moving to NBC’s Today Show), she listened to Jim Tankersley of National Journal blame the frighteningly anemic “job numbers” on high gas prices and the spate of tornadoes “playing together to slow down manufacturing activity, slow down hiring.” Then, she asked the question that I’ve wanted to ask:

Isn’t the problem here, Jim, that there’s really no cushion? The Fed apparently has done what it’s prepared to do to spur on the economy. There’s no policy response. Congress isn’t going to spend any more money to create jobs. So whatever happens, Americans are in a position of just gutting it out.

Yes, after the Fed has showered its printing presses on banks and other businesses to the tune of many trillions, and years after the stimulus was supposed to prevent us from ever reaching 9 percent unemployment, that very 9 percent level was crossed for the second time on this double-dip ride, and we’re now left to gut it out by ourselves. Alone, if you think in terms of government; together, if you think in terms of shared condition.

But look on the bright side. If Savannah is correct, the folks in Washington might stop helping us so much.

What we’re talking about here — “gutting it out” — could, alternatively, be called “freedom.” Left to our own devices, without government bailouts and jobs programs and subsidies and assorted fine-tuning, we Americans can still dream and build and innovate and grow, getting better each year at producing the goods and services that we each need to live our lives and pursue our own happiness.

Can’t we?

And how much more painful could it possibly be for us were Uncle Sam not to borrow trillions more dollars? After all, we’ll have to pay back with interest those loans used to “create jobs” that don’t seem to actually get created. Or, if created, prove unsustainable. Should we have expected that borrowing money to hire people for non-productive, make-work jobs would lead ineluctably to spectacular economic success?

Mr. Bush and Mr. Obama, with wide bipartisan support in Congress, intervened in the economy in a massive way. They bailed out companies, whole industries; they legislated massive reforms to several major sectors of the economy. And by sending rubber checks to state governments and to We, the People, they tried to convince us to go out and blow the money to “stimulate” business activity.

I say “rubber” checks, because while they didn’t bounce upon deposit, they may well bounce in the future. After all, it’s not as if we won’t be forced to pay the money back, plus interest. And, at that dread hour, the rubber may seem more like brick.

First, we were told by President Bush that the solution to our economic problems (and terrorism to boot) was to go out and shop until we drop. Then we were told by both Bush and his second incarnation, Obama, that the solution was for government to borrow or print trillions of dollars to, in effect, let politicians shop until we drop. (And tinker a tad, too.)

All to create jobs. Or — er, to save jobs.

Now the money is spent, the bills are coming due, and . . . surprise, surprise, we don’t have the jobs. Seems the real-world is not controlled by some politician’s speech or tap dance or Tweet about what he or she can do to create jobs . . . if they can only grab more money away from citizens who have jobs and are actually creating them. Or sink us further into debt.

Even President Obama finally admits as much, at least in the Times of London. In an op-ed jointly authored with British Prime Minister David Cameron, they wrote, “Governments do not create jobs: bold people and innovative businesses do.”

So, you and I and our over 300 million neighbors are left to gut it out. No complaints, here. Glad to call you neighbor. We can do this.

Yes, we can.

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