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HANSON: Don’t waste a crisis?
Euphemism comes from the Greek word euphemia, which means “using the good word” - usually in place of the accurate bad one. Recently we’ve become experts at it.
Printing trillions more dollars and growing government to cover new debts isn’t so bad if we call it “stimulus.” That is far smarter than saying something honest like, “I propose a new $1 trillion debt program.”
The old-fashioned spendthrift policies we used to ridicule as congressional pork and “earmarks” are now justified under that ubiquitous nice word “stimulus.” If funding another questionable museum in your district was once congressional pork barreling, it will now be a patriotic act to get the national economy moving again.
Yet much of what is driving this national hysteria in our reaction to the current economic downturn is psychological. After all, no plagues, wars or earthquakes have killed our work force, destroyed our infrastructure or wiped out our computer banks.
Instead, for years now we have overspent and overborrowed - and must naturally pay up. And like any chastised debtor, panicked Americans logically have temporarily clammed up and are holding on to what money they have left.
In response, the government apparently doesn’t only want to free up credit to get us back to our profligate habits of borrowing what we don’t have so we can buy what we don’t need. It also would like to create new programs to build infrastructure, guarantee new loans, and offer additional credits, bailouts and entitlements.
Or in the words of incoming White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.”
Traditional conservative custodians of the budget can’t say much. They are largely discredited on matters of finance. During the last eight years of Republican prominence in Congress and the White House, the government borrowed as never before.
Liberals in turn have suddenly rewritten their own economic history. They used to claim the great surge in government under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt got us out of the Great Depression with deficit spending and federal jobs programs.
But many historians have argued instead that unemployment and slow growth remained high throughout Roosevelt’s first two terms - until World War II scared us all into a fit of national mobilization that alone ended the ongoing 13-year depression between 1929 and 1941.
Now here’s the irony: Liberals suddenly agree that only World War II stopped the Depression, after all! So they now argue we need a new New Deal far greater than the old New Deal. In other words, they want to re-create the urgency of World War II to get government to grow and spend big-time. Their argument is that if FDR failed to stop the Depression, it wasn’t, as conservatives insist, because he turned to unworkable government solutions, but rather because he didn’t try big enough ones.
The government-affiliated, underregulated and corrupt Fannie Mae may have collapsed. And it may have helped to cause the subprime mortgage meltdown. No matter - the proposed “don’t waste a crisis” cure seems to use that model of government-guaranteed corporations to absorb as much of the economy as possible.
Still, no one knows whether the present borrowing and printing of money to give short-term credits, cash grants and jobs to Americans will get the economy moving again - or simply reinforce the bad habits that got us here in the first place.
But consider a few facts: Even in the current mess, recent unemployment figures are around 7 percent - not the 10 percent of the recession of the early 1980s, much less the 25 percent rate that peaked in the Great Depression.
About the Author
By John R. Bolton
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