Monday, February 2, 2009

Response to State Rep. Brian Boquist's Opinion Piece Against the Economic Stimulus

Note: I submitted this to the Salem Statesman-Journal as a guest opinion; they have published some of mine before but didn't take this one. Maybe they have too much of a backlog right now. Anyway, I'm posting it here.

"Brian Boquist Impressive, But Ignores Free Market's Recent Demise"

Sunday's Opinion by Brian Boquist showed him to be a thoughtful, reasonable person, at once making a strong case against expanding government debt while also advocating cooperation with some of President Obama's ideas. Boquist fears both the growing deficit and the negative side-effects of government intervention. He is correct in pointing out these dangers, but he fails to address the fact that it was the free-market Bush administration that started down this path with the Bear Stearns rescue, the AIG and Fannie/Freddie bailout and the $650 billion TARP bailout. In fact the economic collapse of the past few months has done much to discredit a pure free-market approach among thinkers and policy makers. As George Bush said, he put aside his economic principles when faced with what advisor's told him would be a collapse worse than the Great Depression. There is much political support for the sort of massive stimulus Obama and the Democrats are proposing precisely because there is little confidence that the system will fix itself. It so happens that there is another school of economic thought advanced by John Maynard Keynes advising the government to engage in massive spending in these sort of situations. This was tried during the Great Depression and critics say that it failed and that this proves the idea has no merit; supporters say that Roosevelt did not spend enough when he tried it, and that it was his eagerness to return to a balanced budget that kept the stimulus from working. A noted Keynesian is recent noble laureate Paul Krugman, who argues that the current $850 billion plan is also too small. Some may find fault with the details of the pending stimulus plan, rightly pointing out that it includes a lot of democrat pet projects and ideology. David Brooks' Sunday column warned that trying to do everything at once just weakens what could be good programs if they were done right with more thought and planning. He suggests that it would be better to just accomplish economic stimulus more directly by something like a payroll tax cut. I confess that I voted for Obama and don't see anything wrong with the winner of an election taking an opportunity to advance his agenda in this situation if it still accomplishes the overall objective. After all, the Bush approach to Hurricane Katrina relief had lots of small business and pro-business incentives. But we're talking about a lot of money here, and I too would like to see this debt used most efficiently. My choice would be to spend it on improving public transit and rebuilding passenger rail service. I think Brian Boquist's best advice was his humorously intended suggestion about planting a garden and learning to cook from scratch. In fact, "learning to cook from scratch" is a good analogy to how we all should begin to extricate ourselves from this economic system. It's very possible that the stimulus won't work and that the perils of greater national debt will come back to haunt us. We would be better off finding ways to live without money, since needing money requires us to depend on this system. This may sound like crazy talk, but if enough houses go into foreclosure it seems possible to me that people may be allowed to just stay in their houses. In this case the defaulting homeowners have become "too big to fail". If you have shelter and can raise your own food, you're pretty close to being able to live without money. This is how the people in the Soviet Union dealt with their economic collapse in the 1990's.

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