Wednesday, July 21, 2010

So, how do we get out of the ditch?

It appears that we are going to hear a single slogan from the Democratic Party all through the upcoming electoral season. President Obama started it when he said, "Why should we give the keys to the car back to the people who drove us into the ditch?" That would be a good question if the financial crisis we recently experienced and the current recession were entirely the Republicans fault, but it isn't. Both parties and several branches of government had a very large hand in creating this mess, and because we aren't willing to be honest about what caused the car to go into the ditch, we may not be able to get out of this proverbial ditch for a very long time.

One of the reasons that the Democrats are in so much trouble in the 2010 elections is that they have controlled congress from 2006 and their legislation and oversight neither prevented the crisis nor reversed the terrible consequences of the recession. In terms of acutal legislation and programs congress has the steering wheel and the President is a back seat driver. Just look at the hash that was healthcare reform, the President was as much of an observer of the process as the rest of us. It seems odd that we call it "Obamacare" when it should be called "Reid and Pelosi Care" since they are the ones who actually wrote and passed the bill. To be fair, it was the President and his administration that set the agenda and drove the process. And that brings us back to talking about being in the ditch.

The President and the Democrats are fond of telling us that they "inherited" this mess, yet with 18 months of controlling both branches of government (a privilege the democrats have had for a majority of the years since the Great Depression, by the way), they have not restored significant economic growth to our ailing economy. I am inclined to believe, based on a lifetime of observing politics and the parties that they haven't fixed the economy because they simply don't know how to fix an economy. Their basic ideology keeps them from the kinds of solutions that enable trade, investment, and economic expansion. The Democrats connection to organized labor makes them protectionist, their tendency towards populism (John Edward's "Two Americas") and suspicion of corporations and business, and their loyalty to the environmental movement prevents them from enacting the policies that can get the economy growing again. Look at their agenda. They want to tax the "rich," who already bear most of the tax burden in this country and who are the investors and small business owners that have the greatest potential to create new jobs and bring us out of this recession. If the goal is deficit reduction and greater amounts of government revenue there is only one solution: broaden the tax base. You can't practice class warfare and bring the country together to defeat a challenge as great as we face today.

The Democrats, in an attempt at creating something that moves us closer to universal health care, have only increased the level of uncertainty for business. This legislation will not help our economy in the long or short term, and is contributing to the reluctance of small businesses to expand and hire. While the program will increase access to health insurance, it will not reduce health care costs without draconian cost and price controls. To prove this point, one only need to look at what is going on with price controls on health insurance in Massachusetts. The appointment of Dr. Berwick is a foreshadowing of what lies ahead for both the health insurance and health care industries.

Finally, the democrats passed much expanded financial & banking regulations. My fear is that there will be any number of unintended consequences associated with this legislation. One of the by products of this recession has been a reduction in availability of credit. I don't see how expanding banking regulations will enable credit to flow out to the engine of job growth in this country; the small businesses. Fin. Reg., it seems to me, was an attempt to demonstrate liberal populism by showing Wall Street and the banking industry who's the boss. So, while it may feel good ideologically to the Left, it not only doesn't get us out of the ditch, it may plunge us into a canyon.

The argument the President and the democrats will make is that we can't "go back" to the old policies that put us in the ditch, and that we need to give them more time bring us into a full recovery. The problem is, and will be for the democrats in November, there are few if any signs of progress that might give us hope that their plans will really work. And my point in all of this is that if we look closely at what they've actually done; from stimulus to health insurance reform to financial regulation, they haven't actually solved any of the problems that caused the recession in the first place. They are instead taking us in another direction entirely, toward the progressive Nirvana of a managed economy. My question is, why should we let them keep the keys when they are driving us, not out of the ditch but toward Greece?

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