Monday, October 11, 2010

Is everything we know wrong?

Polls show that voters have become increasingly concerned about the budget deficit and federal spending.  Other polls show that large portions of the public believe the stimulus and TARP programs were either unnecessary or wasteful.  Conservatives are angry that the government shoved a socialist agenda down people's throats, while many liberals believe that the current administration has merely continued the corporatist, militarist policies of the Bush era.  As a result of conservative anger and liberal disillusionment, Republicans could take over Congress this fall.  To me that seems a perverse result, as I don't see a great public clamoring for a return to the Bush policies that got us into the mess we are in, but there it is.

Expanding on some of my previous comments, I want to float the possibility that the conventional wisdom that seems to be driving a lot of voters this election cycle, is all wrong.  Maybe reality has taken a different course.   

Maybe, I would suggest to all new-found and long-time deficit hawks, the debt is not our biggest problem right now.  Maybe the problem is that the deficit needs to be a lot bigger to allow the economy to recover.

Maybe government is not to blame for the lagging pace of the recovery.  Maybe recovery will pick up when businesses and consumers start feeling more confident.  The aftermath of a deep recession could be a good time for consumers, business, and investors to be borrowing and spending more money, since interest rates are so low now.  Once more people start to realize that, the economy will recover more quickly.

Maybe too big to fail was never the problem. Maybe the problem was that Lehman Brothers was allowed to fail. That could be what caused lending to freeze up and the economy to crash.

Maybe the hated bailouts, of General Motors, the banks, and insurance companies,  made a lot of sense.  It now appears that TARP could turn into one of the most successful government programs ever, and that these institutions will pay the taxpayers back in whole or in large part, and they are generating profits and helping the economy recover.  Maybe bailing out homeowners would not have made as much sense, since they could not pay us back, and many of them still could not afford to stay in their homes.

Maybe there would have been no point in prosecuting more of the Wall Street tycoons who contributed to the financial crisis, because most of what they did was legal.  Maybe it did make sense to put people who understand the financial system, like Tim Geithner and Ben Bernanke, in charge of fixing it. 

Maybe we should be happy that Wall Street is making money again, because the alternative of Wall Street losing money would actually be worse.

Maybe the Congress that everyone is so angry at should instead be congratulated for concluding one of its most productive sessions in history, in which it achieved, despite nearly unanimous obstruction from the opposition, major stimulus legislation, major health care reform legislation, and major financial reform legislations, among other accomplishments.   Maybe all of those programs are going to have major positive impacts, but it is too soon to evaluate them, considering that most of the major provisions of those laws have not even taken effect yet.

Maybe, I would suggest to Tea Party protesters, taxes in America are not too high.  Maybe they are actually lower than what people in most other developed nations pay, which is pretty remarkable considering that we support the largest military on earth.  Which means we have to consider the possibility that our government is actually pretty well run and efficient, and that we probably wouldn't be able to obtain the valuable services it provides any cheaper in the private market.

Maybe the much-maligned stimulus program actually worked.  And the projects it funded are useful.  Without the stimulus, unemployment would be even worse, and the economy would be growing more slowly.    Maybe the real problem with the stimulus was that it was actually too small, and should have included more help for the states to prevent the budget problems many states are struggling with now.

Maybe, I would say to some disillusioned Obama supporters, the president and his team actually pushed a progressive agenda as far as they could get it through Congress.   And maybe some of the members of the team most distrusted by the left, like Rahm Emmanuel, were highly effective in accomplishing real change.

Maybe we are actually headed in the right direction, but it's just going to take more time for the country to recover from the enormous problems this administration inherited.  Maybe reversing course would be the thing that would take us in the wrong direction.

(trends in private sector job growth, from Washington Monthly)


  1. Maybe people are just ignorant and selfish.

  2. Isn't this what Liberals say of the American people. Oh, if they just knew the facts... if they simply were smarter... if they educated themselves... if all these things happened THEN they would agree with Democrats.

    If, if, if...

    The comment above (as well as the article) is pretty typical of this attitude.

    Maybe the problem isn't with the "ignorant masses" maybe it's with... the Democratic Party?

  3. I respect people who have philosophical disagreements with current policy. But nobody should be entitled to make up their own facts. And you will notice that I am just as critical of liberals who do that as conservatives. Not everything is a matter of opinion, and we should not be so quick to make judgments until we know all the facts.

    A lot of Bush supporters got very exasperated when opponents of the "surge" would not admit that some aspects of that strategy actually had some success. By the same token if TARP ends up not costing taxpayers much money, or if the stimulus bill ends up putting some people to work, opponents of those programs should acknowledge those facts. You don't have to become a Democrat to do that; you just have to acknowledge things that are true, and not rush to judgment so quickly. A number of the things on my list I'm not so sure about myself, and we probably won't know the results for years.

  4. Like you say, history will be discussing the policies you list long after you and I have left this earth. Many of the questions you ask are valid. Some minds will never be changed. Evidence opinions about policies before and after the Great Depression. For many of us, ideologues are the most frustrating people in our lives. They "know", which leaves little room for learning.

    From the end of your first paragraph: << Republicans could take over Congress this fall. To me that seems a perverse result, as I don't see a great public clamoring for a return to the Bush policies that got us into the mess we are in, but there it is. >>

    This is where I think you mistep. Why? This election will be swayed by the middle and we are just as angry at Bush as we are the current Congress (both parties) and the failings of this Administration. The far left is what it is; and the far right is what it is. Neither one fully represents Democrats or Republicans. In this election cycle, and in 2012, ideologues will not sway elections. The majority of us have had our fill with the finger pointing of the far right and far left.

    Hopefully, this country is not going back to the Bush policies. Hopefully we are moving away from both he and Obama. At least I hope so.