By George Will
WASHINGTON – In societies governed by persuasion, politics is mostly talk, so liberals’ impoverishment of their vocabulary matters. Having damaged liberalism’s reputation, they call themselves progressives. Having made the federal government’s pretensions absurd, they have resurrected the supposed synonym “federal family.” Having made federal spending suspect, they advocate “investments” – for “job creation,” a euphemism for stimulus, another word they have made toxic.
Barack Obama, a pitilessly rhetorical president, continues to grab the nation by its lapels, demanding its attention, and is paying the price: The nation is no longer listening. This matters because ominous portents are multiplying.
Bank of America, which reported an $8.8 billion loss last quarter, plans 30,000 layoffs out of a workforce of nearly 300,000. The Postal Service hopes to shed 120,000 of its 653,000 jobs (down from almost 900,000 a decade ago). Such churning of the labor market would free people for new, more productive jobs – except that to reduce unemployment, the economy needs an approximately 3 percent growth rate, triple today’s rate.
Consumers of modest means are so strapped that Wal-Mart is reviving layaway purchases for the Christmas season. The Wall Street Journal reports that Procter & Gamble, which claims to have at least one product in 98 percent of American households, expects hard times for a long time: It is putting new emphasis on lower-priced products for low-income shoppers.
Just as Obama administration policies have delayed the housing market reaching a salutary bottom, Europe’s policies designed to delay Greece’s default on its debt are probably making that inevitability worse. If the contagion reaches Italy or Spain (”Too big to fail and too big to bail”), we shall learn how hollow Europe’s banks are, and how much U.S. banks are entangled with them.
During the debt-ceiling debate, The New York Times, liberalism’s bulletin board, was aghast that Republicans risked causing the nation to default on its debt. Now two Times columnists endorse slow-motion default through inflation: The Federal Reserve should have “the deliberate goal of generating higher inflation to help alleviate debt problems” (Paul Krugman) and “sometimes we need inflation, and now is such a time” (Floyd Norris).
Ken Rogoff, a Harvard economist, suggests “trying to achieve some modest deleveraging through moderate inflation of, say, 4 to 6 percent for several years.” This is an antiseptic way of saying we should reduce the weight of our indebtedness by reducing the value of the dollars in which it is denominated. But does the nation need more uncertainty? And note Rogoff’s serene confidence in government’s ability to control such things – inflation will be fine-tuned within a narrow band, switched on for just a few years, then off, like a government-approved light bulb.
It is a wonder, this faith-based (and often campus-based) conviction that the government that brought us the ethanol program can be trusted to precisely execute wise policies that will render the world predictable and progressive.
For two years, there has been one constant: As events have refuted the Obama administration’s certitudes, it has retained its insufferable knowingness. It knew that the stimulus would hold unemployment below 8 percent. Oops. Unemployment has been at least 9 percent in 26 of the 30 months since the stimulus was passed. Michael Boskin of Stanford says that even if one charitably accepts the administration’s self-serving estimate of jobs “created or saved” by the stimulus, each job cost $280,000 – five times America’s median pay.
And research by Garett Jones and Daniel M. Rothschild of George Mason University’s Mercatus Center indicates that just 42.1 percent of workers hired by entities receiving stimulus funds were unemployed at the time. More (47.3 percent) were poached from other organizations, and 10.6 percent came directly from school or outside the labor force.
Obama’s administration, which is largely innocent of business experience, knew its experts would be wizards at investing taxpayers’ dollars. Oops. After more than half a billion stimulus dollars in loan guarantees, bankrupt Solyndra has shed nearly all of its more than 1,100 workers.
The economic policy the “federal family” should adopt can be expressed in five one-syllable words: Get. Out. Of. The. Way. Instead, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, whose department has become a venture capital firm for crony capitalism and costly flops at creating “green jobs,” praises the policy of essentially banishing the incandescent light bulb as “taking away a choice that continues to let people waste their own money.” Better to let the experts in his department and the rest of the federal family waste other people’s money.
George Will’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.