Monday, September 20, 2010

The brink of absurdity

Sometimes democracy is frustrating. OK...most of the time.

The national political discourse almost always teeters on the brink of absurdity. Mama Grizzlies...death panels...birthers...the victory mosque...the bailout stimulus. It all reminds me of the old TV show Green Acres, with lead character Oliver trying to function in a world where everyone around him is seemingly insane. (At least on the show part of the humor is that the bumpkins were smarter than they made out to be. In American political circles today? Not so much.)

Two recent stories caught my attention. First, the Fiscal Times noted that economists generally agree that the Bush tax cuts had no beneficial effect on the US economy. Of course, Republican members of Congress are trying right now to extend those cuts, which will only increase the deficit they claim to worry so much about. Second, a New Yorker column notes that most economists believe that the Obama stimulus package had several positive, though not exceptional, impacts on the national economy: any reasonable measure, the $800-billion stimulus package that Congress passed in the winter of 2009 was a clear, if limited, success. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that it reduced unemployment by somewhere between 0.8 and 1.7 per cent in recent months. Economists at various Wall Street houses suggest that it boosted G.D.P. by more than two per cent.
However, by listening to the ferocious GOP attacks and the generally lame Democratic counter, you'd think that the evidence concluded the opposite. As William Butler Yeats wrote:
The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity
Alas, what are we to do? Well, there's Jon Stewart's "Rally to Restore Sanity." In our distorted national dialogue, it takes a comedian to give us the straight truth.


dylan said...

I was thinking of those Yeats lines earlier today, but with, as you might imagine, a different application (race relations, as it happens).

I'm no economist, but I'd guess that if the efficacy of the Bush tax cuts was blunted, it's in large part because of this ongoing foreign entanglement (alias "war") that has cost so much in money and in lives. I don't think the tax cuts themselves were the primary cause of economic strain.

Jim said...

From what I understand, tax cuts for the wealthy have little benefit because they aren't waiting for a windfall in order to buy a house or yacht or a ton of caviar.

As for the wars, it was quite foolish and fiscally dangerous to cut taxes and launch two overseas occupations. The US is not infinitely wealthy and that decision, and others on both political sides, will, I believe, eventually doom the nation to economic collapse. Modern Romans, etc.