Politicians Are All the Same. They Give Us Exactly What We Ask For. (Postscript Below)

I just read an article in Slate by Jacob Weisberg that speaks directly to one of my biggest frustrations in political discussions: the fatalistic shoulder-shrugging platitude, “What do you expect? They’re all politicians and politicians are all the same.”

Well, politicians don’t spring out of the earth fully prepared with barometers and weather vanes. Politicians are created. We create them:

In trying to explain why our political paralysis seems to have gotten so much worse over the past year, analysts have rounded up a plausible collection of reasons including: President Obama’s tactical missteps, the obstinacy of congressional Republicans, rising partisanship in Washington, the blustering idiocracy of the cable-news stations, and the Senate filibuster, which has devolved into a super-majority threshold for any important legislation. These are all large factors, to be sure, but that list neglects what may be the biggest culprit in our current predicament: the childishness, ignorance, and growing incoherence of the public at large.

Anybody who says you can’t have it both ways clearly hasn’t been spending much time reading opinion polls lately. One year ago, 59 percent of the American public liked the stimulus plan, according to Gallup. A few months later, with the economy still deeply mired in recession, a majority of the same size said Obama was spending too much money on it. There’s nothing wrong with changing your mind, of course, but opinion polls over the last year reflect something altogether more troubling: a country that simultaneously demands and rejects action on unemployment, deficits, health care, climate change, and a whole host of other major problems. Sixty percent of Americans want stricter regulations of financial institutions. But nearly the same proportion says we’re suffering from too much regulation on business. That kind of illogic—or, if you prefer, susceptibility to rhetorical manipulation—is what locks the status quo in place.
[...]
The usual way to describe such inconsistent demands from voters is to say that the public is an angry, populist, tea-partying mood. But a lot more people are watching American Idol than are watching Glenn Beck, and our collective illogic is mostly negligent rather than militant. The more compelling explanation is that the American public lives in Candyland, where government can tackle the big problems and get out of the way at the same time. In this respect, the whole country is becoming more and more like California, where ignorance is bliss and the state’s bonds have dropped to an A- rating (the same level as Libya’s), thanks to a referendum system that allows the people to be even more irresponsible than their elected representatives. Middle-class Americans really don’t want to hear about sacrifices or trade-offs—except as flattering descriptions about how ready we, as a people, are, or used to be, to accept them. We like the idea of hard choices in theory. When was the last time we made one in reality?

The politicians thriving at the moment are the ones who embody this live-for-the-today mentality, those best able to call for the impossible with a straight face. Take Scott Brown, the newly elected Senator from Massachusetts. Brown wants government to take in less revenue: He has signed a no-new-taxes pledge and called for an across-the-board tax cut on families and businesses. But Brown doesn’t want government to spend any less money: He opposes reductions in Medicare payments and all other spending cuts of any significance. He says we can lower deficits above 10 percent of GDP—the largest deficits since World War II, deficits so large that they threaten our future as the world’s leading military and economic power—simply by cutting government waste. No sensible person who has spent five minutes looking at the budget thinks that’s remotely possible. The charitable interpretation is that Brown embodies naive optimism, an approach to politics that Ronald Reagan left as one of his more dubious legacies to Republican Party. A better explanation is that Brown is consciously pandering to the public’s ignorance and illusions the same way the rest of his Republican colleagues are.

Weisberg goes on to say that the problem is not limited to Republicans.

It’s a truly odd kind of contradiction in the national character of a people who, more than any other people in the world, built a nation by being willing to face the unknown, accept extraordinary hardships, and sacrifice comfort, security, safety, and certainty for a chance at something better, with no guarantee of success, that in recent years (and I’m using the word “recent” loosely — I think it’s at least since post-World War II), we do not seem to be able to tolerate any degree of difficulty or shared sacrifice. I don’t pretend to know the reason for it, but I do know that Jacob Weisberg is right when he suggests we get politicians instead of political leaders because we make it clear that’s what we want.

POSTSCRIPT: Bruce McQuain likes living in Candyland, thank you very much!

         

Author: KATHY KATTENBURG

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50 Comments

  1. Americans really don’t want to hear about sacrifices or trade-offs—except as flattering descriptions about how ready we, as a people, are, or used to be, to accept them. We like the idea of hard choices in theory. When was the last time we made one in reality?

    I think that's right on the mark. One of the reasons Reagan was so popular is because he traded on that fantasy, made people feel good about themselves, without requiring any basis for it in fact. Lots of talk and an expanding gulf between the talk and the reality jumped in popular then and continued till today. But it's true, the public settles and doesn't demand much that is reality based anymore. Sorry to say.

  2. A better explanation is that Brown is consciously pandering to the public’s ignorance and illusions the same way the rest of his Republican colleagues are.”

    Gee, there was this pied piper from the land of the Illinois who promised to get rid of all the vermin and create 3 million jobs while he was making wine from water. (This last was a problem since he forgot about the grape pickers union.)
    Politicians D and R are all alike, they like their pork skewered but not taken away and they pray to the god of reelection.

  3. You beat me to this one Kathy. Bravo!

  4. And who reelects them?

  5. Gee, there was this pied piper from the land of the Illinois who promised to get rid of all the vermin and create 3 million jobs while he was making wine from water.

    And then he ran smack into the Republicans in Congress who think you can create three million jobs by cutting taxes and spending nothing.

  6. Don't worry Kathy, that old dynamic is going out the window. With the Tea Party we're going to see a brand new world! No more taxes, a stripped down federal govenment, a magically disappearing deficit, and corporate sponsored celebrations in the street every day! You're going to love it! Just be patient…

  7. Thanks, Joe. :-)

  8. Maybe what we're really running into here, is the fact that neither party can divorce itself from their lobbyist money. We're rapidly approaching the point where the taxes will have to be increased across the board, or the interests will have to take a hit. We've pretty much borrowed everything that we can from foreign countries, who are understandably getting worried, and have probably pushed the limit of creating money from nothing before we see Zimbabwe-type inflation.

    Something has got to give, and give soon.

  9. from the land of the Illinois'

    I guess you won't admit that it is a D and R problem. That makes you part of the problem, you the progs and the cons both.

  10. Great piece! Candyland, where it's morning in America.

    I am beginning to believe that analyzing every move Obama and the Democrats make as if there were anything that could help is fruitless. We are in the Bread and Circuses phase of our empire.

    Maybe the boomers and the later generations that follow their values or think they do are our downfall after all, just not in the way that critics in the 1960s imagined it. I'm 75 years old, yellow dog liberal–and I am not surprised, but not happy either, that the public has become so entertainment focused, so selfish, so paralyzed by mental intellectual laziness, that we have become ungovernable.

    I am trying to retreat into my garden, where there is some chance of accomplishment, now that I have enclosed the dahlia/vegetable garden in a six foot chain link fence to thwart Bambi and family. Too bad we can't fence out the Republicans.

  11. mental/intellectual (I blame the netbook keyboard

  12. Actually, I said that the problem was not limited to the Republican Party. I guess you missed that.

  13. Actually, Prof, I think the root of the problem lies, as Weisberg points out in his piece, with the American people themselves — us, in other words. That was the entire point of my post.

    This is not to minimize the problem of lobbyist money, but that problem, along with many others that are contributing to the breakdown of our democracy — including the dysfunctional Senate — exists in the context of a public that is uninformed, uninterested, and largely disconnected from reality. The politicians you talk about use that public as an asset. The problem, as always, originates with the people because we are the ones who, in essence, tell our leaders how we would like them to treat us.

  14. “We are in the Bread and Circuses phase of our empire.”

    That's the real substance behind the threat of Carville's “40 More Years” of Democratic rule.

    * * *

    “California, where ignorance is bliss and the state’s bonds have dropped to an A- rating (the same level as Libya’s), thanks to a referendum system that allows the people to be even more irresponsible than their elected representatives”

    I'm familiar with California and its “Massachusetts Lite” liberal politics. Fortunately, though it leads the nation in many ways (and “leads” in the sense it drives as well as precedes other parts of it), it is not always the model, any more than New York City (which bankrupted itself through liberalism) is.

    The hypocritical lib elitist contempt for direct democracy when it's politically incorrect is duly noted.

  15. “I think the root of the problem lies, as Weisberg points out in his piece, with the American people”

    Many are dependent and have become even demanding with entitlements, and view government wrongly, not as government (authority — power over people) but as something else. That is the problem with many people, in addition to related things like economic ignorance about and misplaced faith and trust in interventionism.

  16. “I think it’s at least since post-World War II” Those folks that were adults when WWII began, those folks that were parents before WWII began all suffered through the depression. Bread lines, soup kitchens, 25% unemployment, 3rd floor, cold-water, walk-up flats, living in basements with no electricity.

    I would suggest that there probably is not anyone reading this comment or any blog that has a clue to what is was like in the 1930s. I know people, today, who have it rough, who have lost their house, who cannot afford any of the niceties of life yet they are a heck of a lot better off than a lot of those folks in the '30s.

    If you are reading this, you probably haven't had to band together, to stick together for the survival of the group. Those people in the '40s & '50s were tough. They beat the depression, they beat the Axis Powers, they were survivors and they made a better world. Their grand-children (metaphorically speaking) had it handed to them and they never had to fight for it, to really earn it.

  17. If you need someone to blame, I guess a group of more than 300 million will do. Now, how do you solve it. There's very few bills that have come out of congress in my lifetime that seemed like they were made to help the entirety of this nation. Congress still looks like a set of elitists because of that. Partisans that get used to selling their bills based on what they've been spoon fed don't help. The people need to start getting outraged at the obvious failures. For instance, if the replacement for Glass-Steagall is one of those commissions that will sway with the political winds instead of something very close to the original Glass-Steagall, legislators needs to know that they'll be replaced based on how they vote, and not on the letter following their name. I would blame our current woes on knee-jerk spoon fed partisans, and I'm encouraged by the fact that they seem to be a dying breed.

  18. Kathy, I agree that the Democrats are also to blame, as I tried to imply in my remark about the uselessness of analyzing them as if anything can be done. During the primary I supported Hillary and thought that Obama was not ready, if he ever would be, and that Candyland was being held up once again as the goal. Fence remark just a joke. And as for the so-called democracy some posters are talking about–where is it? By that I mean where is the concerned, thoughtful electorate these days? If that is an elitist question, so be it. Back in the day, and I mean the Oh Boy potatoes for dinner day (much better than mayonaisse sandwiches), we were not ashamed when we achieved something. Elitism is in the eye of the beholder.

  19. ” By that I mean where is the concerned, thoughtful electorate these days? If that is an elitist question, so be it.”

    I was correct in characterizing instances of contempt for the word “populism” and anger at results of democratic decisions that liberals don't like, as can be heard routinely on “progressive” talk radio these days. (It's similar to the views many hold of California's Proposition 13; it is defective, but only one in a thousand, if that fraction, of critics knows why. The critics typically are liberals just upset that it is a limit on the ability to raise property taxes, especially on expensive newer housing. There are abuses of California's initiative process, which is subject to hijacking by corporate and other big-money special interests, but that doesn't, or rather shouldn't indict direct democratic mechanisms and direct democracy itself, just the abuse of these things.)

    A thoughtful, knowledgeable, informed electorate, more than we have now, would be fine, and I'd like to see the suffrage qualified as well as weighted by such things as test scores on basic civics or on the test immigrants have to pass to attain citizenship, or tests about current issues as well as civics. As with intelligence testing, I'd gladly pit non-liberals against liberals in competing for voting weights or qualifications on this basis, with the confidence that non-liberals would do quite well against their opponents, and I suspect openly that any opponents' claims of reluctance on the grounds of inequity are being made in order to conceal their real concern(s).

  20. If you need someone to blame, I guess a group of more than 300 million will do.

    Well, it would be somewhat less than 300 million, since I'm not including children, terminally ill patients, or persons over the age of 90.

    That's one way to respond to your line. Another way is to copy it: If you need someone to blame, I guess a tiny group of 100 Americans who happen to be senators will do. If you need someone to blame, I guess liberals will do. Or Republicans. Or Democrats. Or the media. Or someone.

    At some point, one has to start being a grown-up, and that involves making a sincere, strong, and good faith effort to find answers to why our political leaders are so lacking in leadership skills and why our political system is so broken. I don't think there's only one intelligent or reasonable answer, and I don't think any one person has all the answers. But I do think that we are bound to lose if we always take each other's ideas and try to lampoon them or take them to exaggerated extremes.

    “If you need someone to blame, I guess a group of more than 300 million will do.” is not really a fair way of translating what I said. If you want to know how to solve it, and if you're asking for my opinion, I'd say it starts with you. And with me. And with each one of us. We are the only ones we ultimately have any control over, and our only hope for changing the way things are in Washington, D.C. is to change the way we think about it and respond to it, and that in turn means giving up stereotyped, obsessive-compulsive thought patterns like the notion that a search for causes or solutions is the same as partisan finger-pointing. We need to wean ourselves of the need to expect or demand that each time or any time we speak out about some behavior or action or policy on the part of our leaders that we believe is harmful or wrong, we must balance that and make it “nonpartisan” by pointing to an equivalent action or behavior by some other political leader — even if it happened 30 years ago. Even if it's not comparable. Something, anything, just to show that we are fair and balanced and recognize that…..THEY BOTH DO IT. They all do it. They're all the same. Democrats do it, too. Republicans do it, too. They're both just as guilty. Sometimes that's actually true. Sometimes it's actually not true. Why don't we instead try to locate the problems and address them instead of always being “on” our political gamesmanship?

    “The people need to start getting outraged.” I think the people already are outraged. But they don't know what they're outraged about, or whether what they're told is true or false, or whether they want it to be different like this or different like that. That's what Weisberg was talking about. That's what I'm talking about. Getting outraged is worse than useless if you don't know when you're being lied to and about what. Getting outraged accomplishes nothing if you reject reality and honesty and opt instead to follow the politician who tells you what you want to hear. If you don't ever pick up a book or a newspaper, or watch anything on television other than Fox, or go to the library once in a while, do your homework and fact-check the politicians and the media reports every so often, what does outrage count for? Absolutely nothing.

  21. DLS, I see your problem. I am a liberal. Sorry. I am also a populist myself and, since I am not on progressive radio, or tv, I can't really be lumped with them For one thing, I am too old. For another, I am a Chistian, quite unacceptable to the young progressives. Intelligence and education are important, of course, but so is morality, as in being one's brother's keeper and understanding that one is not the center of the universe. Concern for others, especially the sick and poor, is a Christian imperative. That means, for example, that my excellent income and health benefits should not cause me to be against health benefits for others, even if it costs me money. And it seems to me only common sense that a populace with jobs, health care, educational benefits, and respect for one another, is desirable.

    It seems to me that the vaunted “populism” of today's politics, is nothing like that.

  22. “Intelligence and education are important, of course, but so is morality, as in being one's brother's keeper and understanding that one is not the center of the universe.”

    Many of the progressives are self-centered, or self-absorbed (as well as often naive or unrealistic). However, many of them also mean well; the reason they despise the public that is apprehensive (or worse) toward liberalism or Big Government because they are impatient with or intolerant toward those who fail to See the Light. (It doesn't help, either, when the Great Experts this past year have given us numerous instances of concern that their own vision is far from clear.)

    “That means, for example, that my excellent income and health benefits should not cause me to be against health benefits for others, even if it costs me money.”

    Well, they don't like being treated literally as serfs and not consulted, by the mandarins and their minions in Washington who presume (and sometimes profess, or merely inadvertently admit sometimes) that they know what's best for everyone — or at least, everyone else.

    That some of the public are defensive and selfish is no doubt true, but often this is a false accusation. Defensive, yes, often for good reason; selfish or immoral, no.

  23. Of course, that comment would have more validity if the Big O didn't have vast majorities in the house and a filibuster proof supermajority in the senate for his first year in office. He didn't need one republican vote for anything.

    It seems clear that the opposite of the republican argument is also not true, namely that massive deficit spending funded transfer payments from one level of gov't to another, deficit spending funded bailouts for every semi-politically connected industry, increasing labor and business costs through Cap'N Trade and health care reform, and a heaping spoonful of phony populism can “save or create” millions of jobs

  24. Americans just talk a big game all the time.

    The narrative is that Obama is lofty and idealist while the people have more pressing concerns.

    It's the other way around.

  25. Actually, I said that the problem was not limited to the Republican Party. I guess you missed that.”

    That is your post. In your article: “Weisberg goes on to say that the problem is not limited to Republicans.”
    Didn't miss it, just thought it needed amplification and specificity.

  26. “save or create” millions of jobs”

    Yup.

  27. I think the people already are outraged. But they don't know what they're outraged about, or whether what they're told is true or false, or whether they want it to be different like this or different like that. That's what Weisberg was talking about. That's what I'm talking about. Getting outraged is worse than useless if you don't know when you're being lied to and about what. Getting outraged accomplishes nothing if you reject reality and honesty and opt instead to follow the politician who tells you what you want to hear. If you don't ever pick up a book or a newspaper, or watch anything on television other than Fox, or go to the library once in a while, do your homework and fact-check the politicians and the media reports every so often, what does outrage count for? Absolutely nothing. ~ Kathy K

    Amen sister, amen.

  28. So, the Real Word = Candyland, huh?

    Go get a clue. McQuain's analysis is spot on.

  29. Thank you, JSpencer. I just get so sick of it.

  30. Okay, so now that we have amplification and specificity, what is one thing that you feel, after some thought, that YOU can do to be part of the solution? I understand that your job, as you see it, is to make sure everyone is thoroughly informed that The Democrats Do It, Too. After you've done that, is there one possible aspect of the problem with our politics and our democracy today for which you can take responsibility (not in the sense of blame; in the sense of empowerment — that it's within your individual power to at least start to change it)?

  31. I understand that your job, as you see it, is to make sure everyone is thoroughly informed that The Democrats Do It, Too”

    That's my job, and your job is point out that the Reps Do It Too. (And the birds do it, so don't look up suddenly.)

  32. I agree with your first paragraph; disagree with your second.

    As loathesome as the bailout was, the economy would have collapsed without it. Economists widely agree on that. Furthermore, as I understand it, most of the financial entities who received bailout funds under TARP have paid the money back.

    Deficit spending is absolutely essential in a recession, and in one as severe as the one we're in, yes, massive spending is called for. That's Econ 101. The problem with the stimulus is that it was not massive enough, not that it was too massive. Pres. Obama went over the details of that in the SOTU; I needn't repeat them here. Ditto for Cap & Trade and health care reform. Both of those would create jobs (I don't know exactly how many, but a lot), and health care reform in particular is essential to lowering the deficit.

  33. I know this is tongue in cheek, but it's also pretty sad, if you think about it.

    Ask yourself why nothing ever changes.

  34. Ask yourself why nothing ever changes.”

    Sorry, change for the worse, is still change.

  35. Good lord, dduck. Then ask yourself why change is always going toward the worse, then. What do I have to do? Hold your hand and raise the spoon to your mouth?

  36. If you don't ever pick up a book or a newspaper, or watch anything on television other than Fox, or go to the library once in a while, do your homework and fact-check the politicians and the media reports every so often, what does outrage count for? Absolutely nothing.

    You should know my stance on this by now. There are more than two choices out there. If people keep voting for the lesser of two evils that what they'll get: lesser evil. We've been getting lesser evil for so long that it's accumulating into greater evil. When both parties are unable to address this country's major problems with any meaningful legislation, then they both need to go. And what good is it to be informed if you're just going to hold your nose and vote against your conscience?

  37. As loathesome as the bailout was, the economy would have collapsed without it. Economists widely agree on that. Furthermore, as I understand it, most of the financial entities who received bailout funds under TARP have paid the money back.

    TARP was a very small part of the bailout maneuvers that have been desperately attempting to keep the bubbles from popping. It was repaid with other money in order to give big bonuses, not because the banks are stable, and certainly not because they've resumed lending. The “Econ 101″ that requires massive spending in recession is a controversial theory that's popular with governments, not a proven fact. It's an attempt to smooth over small recessions, and I'm betting that it's going to fail painfully this time.

  38. Prof, I agree. I loathe the “lesser of two evils” line as much as you do. One reason I was so happy to vote for Obama in 2008 was precisely because for the first time in my voting life, I did *not* feel I was voting for the lesser of two evils.

  39. The “Econ 101″ that requires massive spending in recession is a controversial theory that's popular with governments, not a proven fact. It's an attempt to smooth over small recessions, and I'm betting that it's going to fail painfully this time.

    Prof, nothing is ever “proven” in economics. Economics is by definition an inexact science. However, deficit spending in a recession (or depression) is not a “controversial theory.” Quite the opposite. It is accepted by the vast majority of economists that when people have no money to spend because of widespread job loss and unemployment, somehow money has to get into the system if the recession is to end, and that money has to come from the government. There really are no credible economists that I know of who believe that cutting taxes and freezing or cutting spending is the way to get out of a recession. Your statement that deficit spending is a “way to smooth over small recessions” but does not work in a large recession makes no sense at all.

  40. Quite the opposite. It is accepted by the vast majority of economists that when people have no money to spend because of widespread job loss and unemployment, somehow money has to get into the system if the recession is to end, and that money has to come from the government.

    Widely accepted, yes. Proven, not quite. Keynes got the fame for a specific reason: it gives the government a role to play when things go badly. The government has been playing this bigger than we've ever seen, but the effects have been muted.

  41. Ohmygod. Elwood, I didn't say it was proven, and in fact I said nothing is ever proven in economics. You asserted that deficit spending in a recession is a “controversial theory,” now you say it's “widely accepted,” which is exactly what *I* said, so I assume you agree with me, but somehow don't know which end is up. Or something.

  42. Controversial means that there's a large group of people who don't buy the line. There are different camps out there, but you normally don't hear from all of them. Even TMV had a thread about Hayek and Keynes.

  43. What do I have to do? Hold your hand and raise the spoon to your mouth?”

    Gotcha, big mama shows her stripes.

  44. I know what controversial means, Elwood. And I know what widely accepted means. And I know you referred to deficit spending in a recession first as a controversial theory and then as a widely accepted theory. It can't be both. And I still don't know which one you think it is.

  45. It can't be both.

    Yes it can.
    Controversial: there are different groups of belief out there.
    Widely accepted: There's a dominant group.

    Keynesian theory is the most popular, I would say for political reasons, but not because it has the most evidence on its side.

  46. Keynesian theory is the most popular, I would say for political reasons, but not because it has the most evidence on its side.

    The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics.

    During the 70s, monetarism reached the peak of its popularity among conservative economists. Today, however, Friedman stands virtually alone among top economists in his belief that it contains any merit.

    “A Review of Keynesian Theory”

    Of course, Keynesianism has its critics, most of them conservatives who loathe the idea that government could ever play a beneficial role in the economy. One of the first major critics was Milton Friedman. Although he accepted Keynes' definition of recessions, he rejected the cure. Government should butt out of the business of expanding or contracting the money supply, he argued. It should keep the money supply steady, expanding it slightly each year only to allow for the growth of the economy and a few other basic factors. Inflation, unemployment and output would adjust themselves according to market demands. This policy he named monetarism.

    Wise Geek:

    Since Keynesian economics advocates for the public sector to step in to assist the economy generally, it is a significant departure from popular economic thought which preceded it — laissez-fair capitalism. Laissez-fair capitalism supported the exclusion of the public sector in the market. The belief was that an unfettered market would achieve balance on its own. Proponents of free-market capitalism include the Austrian School of economic thought; one of its earliest founders, Friedrich von Hayek, also lived in England alongside Keynes. The two had a public rivalry for many years because of their opposing thoughts on the role of the state in the economic lives of individuals.

    The above two links are separate sites.

    Hayek was also a major, very influential, accomplished, and respected economist and economic theorist. There is no evidence in the sites I looked at, however, that he is any more “correct” than Keynes, or that his views have any greater validity or legitimacy. In fact, some of Hayek's economic positions — such as his opposition to progressive taxation — are rooted in political ideology not in economic theory. Additionally, Hayek's opposition to what he called “centralized planning” was based largely on models like the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany — not exactly the kind of mixed economies that John Maynard Keynes advocated.

    http://www.google.com/search?h.....z=1B3GGGL_

    http://www.google.com/search?h.....What+is+th
    Here are links to the Google searches I ran, so you can examine them more closely and look at even more of them than I mentioned here. As you will see, two of the main opponents of Keynesian theory — Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek — opposed Keynesian theory because, ideologically and politically, they hated the idea of government intervention in private business. So point number one is that if you are going to start throwing around the “Oh, this is just political, it has no validity” argument, you will have to agree (if you're reasonable) that leading opponents of Keynesian economics are just as politically motivated. So why don't we drop the weak rhetorical tactic of dismissing an economic theory because it's “political” and actually find evidence to support your argument. I for one don't think these sources support your argument that Keynesian theory is popular but lacks evidence for its legitimacy.

  47. My issue was with the absolute conviction on something that's not so provable, or in this case, likely. Politically motivated or not I cannot buy the idea that saving the bankers for a period, rather than trying to unwind the debts in as orderly manner as possible, has given us anything more than a few months delay of the inevitable, and aided the richest at the expense of the rest of the country.

    As loathesome as the bailout was, the economy would have collapsed without it.

  48. @DLS–sorry about the late response, have been supervising the digging out–

    We often don't like to be told what to do. But when my doctor overrules what my Internet search has revealed about my symptons, I do what he says.

    Helping others is chancy–many people don't like to admit need. And they often view their advisors and helpers with resentment. I learned early on to suck it up; I went to high school in my mother's employer's cast-off clothes. A special memory is the first time I got on the school bus in her last-year's maroon and gray plaid coat.

    People who think they are being patronized usually are, but by whom? The leaders who know damn well the health insurance stranglehold on Americans needs to be broken, or the new “populists” who gain power by fueling the resentment?

  49. Your argument relies on Keynesian multipliers of value >1. This is a theory a have always thought to be dubious for various structural reasons. The theory itself is fairly counterintuitive, which doesn't necessarily mean that it is wrong. However, it doesn't seem to comport to experiences we have with institutions or how we operate our own lives financially. Let's take an example of a well run charitable organization with very low overhead, say 10%. That means that for every $1 that is given to them $0.1 is lost to the aether compared to direct giving. Now there may be positive externalities that make up for this loss (and essentially this is what the Keynesian multiplier is all about), but all else being equal direct giving usually leads to better value than indirect giving. (How many times have you heard the phrase “We cut out the middle man to save you more!” or other some such? Same thing.)

    Now take government which is run considerably less well than a charity. Just today, I read in the paper that for WA state ~60% of the budget is payroll and benefits, i.e. overhead. That's 3/5 of every dollar gone to pure entropy, as heat rising from burning money dissipating in the wind. Now I don't know what the overhead value is for the feds, but with them sending stimulus funds to nonexistent congressional districts I am not confident that the overhead+fraud and waste is any better.

    Take into account that money comes into government either through taxes (IRS, more overhead) or through debt instruments like treasuries (Fed Reserve, Overhead + long term interest). Once it is filtered through 3 levels of gov't and multiple agencies you are left with perhaps 40-50% of the money (at best) that can go out the door to stimulate anything. In the case of the stimulus, alot of this remainder was transfer payments to plug budgetary gaps and fund things like unemployment extensions which don't in and of themselves fund new private sector growth and investment. Still, if we assume that 1/3 of the money actually went out the door to spur the private economy, then we would need a multiplier of 3 just to break even in an economic sense.

    I posit to you that if a gov't investment of $1 can return $3 to the economy, Warren Buffet shouldn't bother with Berkshire Hathaway or the stock market with its measly 10-20% returns. In fact we should all just pay 100% of our incomes to the government so we can cash in on that fabulous return.

  50. and fund things like unemployment extensions which don't in and of themselves fund new private sector growth and investment.

    Yes, but they do keep people like my ex-husband, who has been unemployed for well over a year despite herculean efforts to find a job, from losing their homes and their ability to put food on the table. For me, that's an important value.

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