Like Nobody’s Ever Seen

Not so long ago President Donald Trump was plausibly bragging about the best economy, and hoping that would carry him to reelection despite everything else. The latest economic figures suggest we’re now in the worst economy ever, however, and Trump is struggling to find another argument.
The jobs and gross domestic product numbers are undeniably gruesome. Another 1.4 million Americans have applied for unemployment benefits in the past week, bringing the overall unemployment rate to 14.7, which is higher than in any previous post-war recession. Over the past three months the GDP shrank at an annualized rate of 32.9 percent, which is even worse than the worst quarter of the Great Depression.
The cause of all this the coronavirus epidemic, which is unlikely to away by Election Day, and is currently getting worse in many parts of the country. Trump does his best to defend his administration’s response, but but he’s not convincing any skeptics and even losing some supporters. He’s peddling a cure that most scientists believe would do more harm than good, relying on the advice of some very dubious doctors, and has resisted public health measures a consensus of medial opinion are urging. Some of his die-hard supporters will appreciate his defiance, but the rest of the country won’t.
Lacking a boast-worthy record to run on, Trump is instead pursuing two related strategies. One is o claim that his expected loss in the election will be due only to massive fraud by mail-in ballots, and the other is to argue that his Democratic opponents “sick people” bent on destroying everything good about America. Trump will have a hard-time arguing that the man he’s nicknamed “Sleepy” Joe Biden is up to such a gargantuan task, and there’s nothing in Biden’s 40 year record that suggests he want to do it.
Trump “tweeted” a suggestion that the election be delayed, but his most loyal allies in the Senate shot that down, and a few extra weeks of a deadly epidemic currently killing an American every minute and a continued Great Depression economy wouldn’t do him much good.

— Bud Norman

Trump and the Changing Times

The Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that President Donald Trump’s attempts to dismantle President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which protects an estimated 650,000 “dreamers” who were illegally brought in the country as children from deportation, is itself illegal. If it had happened a few months earlier, we suspect, it would have been a bigger story.
Trump’s promise to rid the country of illegal immigrants by any means necessary helped him win his upset victory in the 2016 election, and had hoped it would help him win reelection, but the issue has lately faded from the news cycle. What with the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting economic catastrophe and all the protests and occasional riots about racism and police brutality, some 650,000 people who can’t be blamed for being here and have proved that they’re going to school or working at jobs and in many cases helping hospitals cope with the coronavirus don’t seem so scary.
Public opinion polling shows that most Americans — and even most Republicans — are sympathetic to the “dreamers” and not eager to deport them to countries they can’t remember and where they don’t speak the language, so Trump should be glad that the Supreme Court spared him all the heartbreaking stories that would have run in the media about mass deportations of well-scrubbed college kids and military veterans and emergency room workers. The big, beautiful border wall that Trump promised Mexico will pay for has a few hundred miles than American taxpayers have payed for, and drug gangs are sawing holes in it, and when was the last time you saw a story about that?
Instead, after losing a decision a day earlier that ruled it is illegal for employers to fire homosexual and transexual workers because of their homosexuality or transgenderism, Trump “tweeted” out “Do you get the impression the Supreme Court doesn’t like me?” and warned that if he doesn’t get another four years to appoint more justices the Second Amendment would also be threatened by a court of liberals and squishy moderates. That should rile up some of the faithful, but he’d be well advised not to press the “dreamers” issue, as it won’t win him any of the votes he lost time around.
In the wake of the biggest public health crisis since 1918 and the worst economy since the Great Depression and the most unrest in the streets since 1968, several of Trump’s favorite issues seem to have lost their salience. A couple of years ago Trump did well cussing about National Football League players who kneeled during the national anthem to protest racism and police brutality, but after a couple of months of endlessly replayed videos showing blatantly racist police brutality the NFL has apologized for banning the protest and the protesters are polling better than Trump. For now, he’s losing the culture wars.
The president continues to defend honorifics to the Confederacy, even as the Marines and the Navy and the Joint Chiefs of Staff and even the good ol’ boys at the NASCAR stock racing circuit are banning displays of the Confederate battle flag. His tough-guy “law and order” rhetoric seems to be backfiring as well, with even some skittish Republican politicians criticizing him for using flash grenades and pepper spray and rubber bullets to disperse a mostly peaceful protest in Lafayette Square to post for a photo with a Bible in his hand at a nearby church. Most people have become accustomed to having gay and lesbian co-workers, and only a very few know anybody transgendered, too, and most people currently have more pressing problems to worry about, so advocating for mass firings won’t win Trump many new votes.
Although he lost the popular vote by some three million ballots Trump was able to eke out an electoral college victory with an undeniably ingenious ability to discern the cultural climate, but it seems to be failing him this time around. He can order some rather half-hearted police reforms while praising most police officers, and decry racism while promising he can “quickly and easily” end it, but after so many years he’s ill-suited to the role of racial healer. It’s also a bit late for the boastfully pussy-grabbing politician to win back many of the suburban white women who have been abandoning the Republican party in droves, or convince any homosexuals that he’s a “friend of the family,” or win any non-white voters.
At this point Trump needs to make the coronavirus “magically disappear” as long promised, followed quickly by a V-shaped economy recovery like no one’s ever seen before, and hope that everyone’s so happy about it on Election Day they forget his past enthusiasm for Confederate-style racism and police “not being too nice” when arresting suspects. That’s going to be difficult to achieve in the next five months, though, and at the moment Trump is not even trying to pull it off. Instead he’s defying the wishes of local politicians and health officials by holding a crowded indoor rally in Oklahoma despite the past week’s doubling of coronavirus cases in the state, boasting that by moving the date one later he made the “Juneteenth” celebration of black slaves being belatedly emancipated more famous, and doing little about the economy other than signing off on unprecedented deficit spending.
There are a couple of well-regarded polls that correctly predicted the popular vote in the last which now show Trump losing to presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden by 14 points, and the Fox News poll is similarly bleak, and even the Trump-friendly Rasmussen poll has him losing by 11 points. Trump’s instinct is to play to his diminishing base, but in these strange times he’ll likely need a lot more than that.

— Bud Norman

When Politics is Personal

Politics ain’t bean bag, as the cliche aptly puts it, but we can’t remember a time when it was quite so pro wrestling-like as it is today. Pro wrestling hall of famer and President of the United States Donald Trump seems to pride himself on flouting the traditional norms of decorum and civility in political discourse, and routinely insults his political opponents with charges of mental illness and criminal behavior and ugliness.
On Tuesday, for instance, Trump called Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi a “waste of time” and “a sick woman” who “has a lot of mental problems.” In the same interview he reiterated his claims that President Barack Obama and various Federal Bureau of Investigation officers had committed especially egregious but unspecified political crimes. Trump also explained that he didn’t know the State Department inspector general who was investigating Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for possibly using aides to do personal chores as well as possibly making a corrupt arms deal with Saudi Arabia, but fired the guy because he was an Obama appointee and Pompeo wanted him gone.
The unsubstantiated and unspecified charges levied against Obama and the career public officials are unprecedented in our many years of following politics, as is Trump’s purge of any pesky inspectors general who might find anything embarrassing to the Trump administration, but these are apparently the new rules. To quote an oft-quoted line from The Godfather, “It’s strictly business, not personal.” The Pelosi slurs, on the the other hand, seemed strictly personal
On Monday Pelosi was interviewed by the Cable News Network’s Anderson Cooper, and expressed concern about Trump’s announcement that he was using hydroxychloroqine to ward aff infection by the coronavirus. “He’s our president, and I would rather he was not taking something that has been approved by the scientists, especially in his age group and his, shall we say, weight group — ‘morbidly obese, they say.” Say what you want about Pelosi’s political views, and we’ve had plenty to say about them over the years, but you should admit that the daughter of a famously ruthless Maryland politician has some bare knuckle skills of her own. With a finesse Trump will never master, she sounded concerned about the president’s health while also mentioning his obesity.
Trump fans will agree that Pelosi is a “waste of time” and a “sick woman” who “has a lot of mental problems,” and cheer him on for telling it like is, but we figure that the Pelosi’s objective observation of Trump’s obesity is also telling it like it is.
We’re lately feeling liberated from the old rules of civility and decorum and the rest of all that “politically incorrect” nonsense, so we’ll just come right out and say that Trump is fat. We’ll even go so far as to say that he’s a big fat fatty-pants with a ridiculous comb-over and white circles around his eyes in an otherwise orange and jowly face. None which is disqualifying, as we have to admit that Trump isn’t as fat as President William Howard Taft, who we consider a very underrated president, and he’s not so ugly President Abraham Lincoln, who is rightly regarded as the great president ever, Trump does routinely make an issue of other people’s height and weight and looks.
“I didn’t know he’d be so sensitive,” Pelosi responded on the MSNBC network, before adding “He’s always talking about other people’s avoirdopois, their weight, their pounds.” Which is provably telling like it is, and well within the bounds of the new rules.of pubic discourse.
Trump makes his own rules, and expect everyone else to play the old rules, but that’s not going to happen, How this sort of this sort political discussion leads the country out of the greatest public health crisis in more than a century and the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depressioon remains to be seen.

— Bud Norman

Our Depression About Another Great Depression

Our parents were born in Oklahoma during the the “Dust Bowl” days of the Great Depression, and we’ve long been fascinated by that era. While growing up we would constantly pester our parents and grandparents and older aunts and uncles about what it was like, and voraciously read everything we could find about the economic and political and cultural history of the time. Now there’s a good chance well be facing similarly hard times, but we expect it won’t be the same.
Economists at the Federal Reserve are saying that the unemployment rate might hit more than 32 percent because of the coronavirus shutdowns, despite the zero or negative interest rates and trillions of newly-printed money the central bank is now offering, and that the gross domestic product might soon be half of what it was not so long ago. This is even worse than the Great Depression, when the unemployment rate as at worst about one in four. and those who were on the on the job kept at the economy going at slightly more than than half of its former capacity.
As bad as ut was, the Great Depression turned out to be a golden age in American culture. The big bands of Duke Ellington and Count Basie and Benny Goodman were swinging, Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family were making great country music, and the bluesmen were naturally at their best. Hollywood had a splendid decade, and in ’39 it made at least 52 movies you really need to see.
We worry, though, that it won’t work as well this time. These days the big stay-at-home Netflix hit is about the wierd Oklahoma “Lion King,” which we have o admit is uncomfortably mesmerizing. Most of the new music doesn’t seem to help except for the great local music we cant go out and hear, what building continues around here is mostly boring glass-and-steel.We also worry that our generation and the younger folks aren’t so haras our ancestors.

— Bud Norman

Talkin’ ‘Bout Our G-G-Generation

According to such ancien regime media as The Washington Post and The New York Times, the latest catchphrase among the young folks is “OK, boomer.” Apparently that’s what the millennials or post-millennials or Generation Z or whatever you want to call these raw-boned and tattooed and nose-ringed ragamuffins are sarcastically saying whenever some old fogy dispenses his seasoned “baby boom generation” advice.
Although we’re technically “baby boomers” ourselves, we can hardly blame these young punks for their insolence. We arrived at the very end of the post-World War II “baby boom,” and were among the first of the self-proclaimed young “punks” who were just as cynical about the hippy-dippy counter-culture revolution as we were about the culture it was revolting against. The date of one’s birth somehow permanently affixes a certain worldview for the rest of one’s life, and we arrived at an unusually discombobulating moment of cataclysmic change.
We started reading the newspapers and watching the evening news and eavesdropping on adult conversations at an early age, and it was all full of a bloody war and bloody anti-war protests and civil right marches and church bombings, and women were burning bras outside the Miss America pageant and some people called homosexuals were rioting outside a New York City bar, among other daily outrages. Even for the most precocious child it was hard to make sense of, as was the decidedly different fare suddenly on offer at the local movie theater and on the FM radio dial.
There was a lot about it we liked. We wanted peace with honor in Vietnam, and still believe it could have been achieved and spared South Vietnam from communism if the Watergate scandal hadn’t emaciated the Republican party, but we shared the hippies’ desire for peace. The negroes, as they were once known, were quite right to demand their equal rights under the law and proper respect from the broader culture, no matter how contentious that has often been. The womenfolk also had some reasonable complaints, even according to our fiercely Church of Christ Mom, who insisted on a respectful code of conduct toward women. At the time we didn’t know much about homosexuals, but in retrospect we can understand why the queers in New York were rioting outside that bar. A lot of the rock ‘n’ roll music was irresistible to our youthful ears, and still sounds good after so many years of listening to the great jazz and country and popular artists of the 20th century, and a lot of those disturbing ’60s and ’70s movies still hold up well.
Even so, we want to keep our place in the old world we born into. The post World War II global order that the “greatest generation” imposed seemed to work well enough in the long run, and still strikes us as useful. So far as we can tell fairly regulated capitalism is the most productive economic scheme mankind has come up with so far, and makes more sense than what the self-described socialists of the current Democratic party are peddling. Our old-fashioned Church of Christ Mom’s notions of how a gentleman should treat a lady should should satisfy even the most feminist sensibility of the #MeToo moment. As far as we’re concerned race relations would go easier if people were only more polite to one another, and we miss the days when someone’s sexual predilections were nobody else’s business.
By happenstance we spent much of Thursday with some even older fogies than ourselves, though, and were reminded how the “Generation Gap” of our youth still persists. Our favorite aunt was in town to visit her sister and brother-in-law, along with her excellent husband and our beloved uncle, and naturally politics came up. While the wives were doing some woman thing or another our Dad and Uncle were both yearning for the good old days of President Harry Truman and expressing amazement that the Democrats were even considering nominating an admitted homosexual for president, not to mention all that high-tax socialism they were peddling, and over an excellent dinner at the folks’ retirement home both couples agreed that the damned Democrats were out to get President Donald Trump for no good reason.
Our dinner companions were among the very finest people know, each having been born in the Great Depression and raising themselves into prosperous and honorable and respectable lives, but with all due respect, having been born a few decades later we saw a lot of things differently. We’ll go along with the old-fashioned idea that marriage should ideally be between a man and a woman, no matter how that might annoy our gay and younger friends, but not the newfangled idea that marriage is between a man and three women and a a porn star and Playboy playmate, as Trump insists. We don’t want a socialist president, but only because we don’t want any president telling Harley-Davidson where to makes its motorcycles, as Trump has done. The greatest thing Truman ever did from our historical perspective was to lay the blueprint for the mostly peaceful and prosperous post-War world order, carried out so well by President Dwight Eisenhower and more or less maintained until recently.
The even older fogies and the far younger punks probably don’t share our perspective on this impeachment matter, either. Our parents and aunts and uncles were all preoccupied with making an honorable and respectable living when the Watergate scandal unfolded, but we were insolent young junior high punks with nothing better to do all summer than watching it play out on live television, and unlike our elders we weren’t at all surprised when the facts piled up so high even the most senior Republicans forced President Richard Nixon to resign. This time around the damning facts of presidential misconduct seem to be piling up just as high agains the sitting president, and even if a majority of Republicans and our most respected elders are fine with it we do not approve.
Which is not to say we want anything to do with these tattooed and nose-ringed ragamuffins we run into at the hipster dives and their outright socialist and open-borders and electronic music and free love poppycock. At this point in our postlapsarian and post-modern ives we put no faith in princes, only in the most time tried and true principles that have lasted over the centuries and millennia, and from our cynical seat on the sidelines between generations the old standards seem hard to maintain. Things have gone so far so good during our 60 years, though, and as lonely as we are we’ll hold out hope for the best.

— Bud Norman

What Goes Down Must Come Up

After Wednesday’s brutal day on America’s major stock markets President Donald can no longer brag about their record highs, but if he wants to attempt a complicated and counter-intuitive argument he can claim some credit for the rosy economic conditions that have caused the recent swoon.
The markets tanked because the Federal Reserve Board now intends to slightly raise the artificially low interest rates that fueled the markets’ record run, which is because by now they’ve successfully brought the economy to below full employment and a potential 4 percent growth rate in the gross domestic product, and for now it’s more worried about an inflation rate that’s slightly outpacing the long-awaited wage increases that have lately occurred. According to the perverse logic of the stock markets, good news is bad news, just as back when high unemployment and low GDP growth were bringing interest rates down and raising the indices up bad news was good news.
All of this damnably good news started shortly after the big financial meltdown of ’08, which was caused by the subprime mortgage social engineering of President Bill Clinton’s administration but came to fruition in the final days of President George W. Bush’s administration. Bush and most of the Democrats and Republicans in Congress — including both both of the party’s presidential nominees — responded with a big bailout of some major banks that annoyed people on both the left and the right, and the Fed started printing money at a rate that alarmed any conservative old enough to remember the hyper-inflation of the ’70s. In retrospect, though, the center-left and center-right compromise seems to have more or less worked.
The economy was already officially out of recession by the time President Barack Obama was elected by a scared-to-death electorate and passed a pork-laden “stimulus package” through the overwhelming Democratic majorities in Congress, and after that a historically slow recovery slogged along on the easy money the Fed was printing. We’re still convinced that Obama’s anti-business regulatory and tax policies slowed the recovery, and that only the Fed’s foolhardy money-printing sustained it, but after a scared-to-death electorate elected a Republican majority in the House of Representatives in the “tea party” wave of ’10 there were no more “stimulus packages” or other major interferences and thus things improved slightly. As much as we still disdain Obama-nomics and hate to give the guy credit for anything, we have to admit that during the last two years of Obama’s presidency the economy was on a clearly upward path.
By the time a scared-to-death-of-something-or-another electorate gave an electoral majority to Trump, the unemployment rate was a respectable 4.8 percent and the GDP was growing at a not-great-but-not-bad 3 percentage points or so. As much as we disdain Trump’s trade wars and attempts to restore the coal-driven and low-tech economy of the ’50s, and as much as we hate to give the guy credit for anything, we also have to admit that economy has been on pretty much the same upward trajectory ever since Trump’s inaugural speech promise that “The American carnage ends right here, right now.” Trump’s exceedingly business-friendly regulatory and tax policies have no doubt helped, and his stupid trade wars and economic nostalgia haven’t yet hurt much, and by now the economy is rolling along at a rate we can’t blame the Fed for applying some slight pressure to the brakes.
Trump is already grousing about it, though, as he’d much rather be bragging about record stock market highs and new land speed records in economic growth and how nobody has ever seen anything like it. As much as we hate to give the guy credit for anything, we have to admit it’s another brilliant political ploy. If your stocks are down it’s because of that damned fellow who’s Chairman of the almighty Fed, that quintessentially quasi-governmental institution that actually runs everything according to all the leading “deep state” conspiracies since the days of President Andrew Jackson, and has nothing to do with Trump, who is surely an innocent bystander and fellow victim.
Trump did in fact appoint Jerome Powell as the chairman of the Fed, and Powell was confirmed by a Republican Senate, but so was Attorney General Jeff Sessions appointed by Trump and confirmed by a Republican Senate, and for now both are suspected conspirators in a “deep state” plots to overthrow Trump. Those smarty-pants know-it-alls at the Fed have a darned convincing case for raising the prime interest rate to a few notches lower than historical norms, tough, and if it keeps the economy chugging along at a optimal if not the-greatest-anyone’s -seen rate without inflation we’re sure Trump will be glad to claim the credit, and boast about how great it could have been if only he had been in charge. At this point the labor market is tight enough that further economic growth will require an increase in immigration, and Trump should also be grateful if the Fed spares him that dilemma.
These days our only interest in the stock market is in the long run, and over that dreary amount of time it’s survived the Great Depression and Stagflation and the Dot.com and subprime bubbles, and it’s even survived Obama and we figure it will probably survive Trump. We give some of the credit to those smarty-pants know-it-alls at the Fed, but most of it to all those anonymous schmucks who get up every morning and go to some office or factory or shopping mall and make the decisions and do the work that keeps our still mostly-free economy slogging along through good times as well as bad times.

— Bud Norman

Two Holidays in One

Yesterday was Easter Sunday, of course, but this year it coincided with the far more secular holiday of 4-20. For the sake of the squares among you we will explain that “4-20” is a sub-cultural slang term for marijuana. Some marijuana enthusiasts make a ritual of indulging each day at 4:20, although we’re not sure if it’s supposed to be A.M. or P.M, or perhaps both, if your sleep schedule is accommodating, and the 20th day of the fourth month of the year has become an unofficial national 24 hours of marijuana celebration. Easter didn’t prove a distraction for the large crowds that gathered in various cities across the country, and in The Mile High City of Denver 4-20 pushed the holiest day in Christendom right off the front page.
Tens of thousands gathered in a Denver park, according to the Associated Press, to smoke enough marijuana to make the nearby buildings look quite hazy in the news photographs. The state of Colorado has recently legalized the sale and possession of small amounts of marijuana, and although it remains in violation of federal laws and it is still illegal to smoke marijuana in public there seems to be a considerable degree of tolerance regarding the drug. Reports indicated that only 103 of those tends of thousands were cited, and only 92 of them marijuana violations. The rest were presumably handed a more expensive ticket for consuming tobacco in one of the nearby taverns. There seems to have been no violence or other problems associated with the party, and it can be assumed that the nearby fast-food outlets and convenience stores did a brisk business, so the event might become an annual tradition if anyone can remember the location. Most years it won’t fall on Easter, and a few more pious potheads might join in.
A bunch of grubby neo-hippies littering a park and giving a contact high to an entire neighborhood might not seem the most persuasive image that the pro-legalization movement might send to a wary non-pot-smoking public, which thus far retains a political majority in the country, and would probably be more sympathetic to the respectable Saab-driving suburban pothead who tries to hide it from the kids, but they do seem to be on a roll lately. Polling shows public sentiment moving toward legalization with the dizzying speed of same-sex marriage, legislation and referenda are being considered in several states, prominent politicians from both parties have offered their endorsements, and a certain sweet scent of inevitably is wafting across the land like the smoke from that rally in the park. It’s partly the Baby Boomer’s dominance of the Democratic party, and partly the increasing influence of libertarians and libertarianism in the Republic Party, but we suspect it’s mainly because everybody in government at every level is increasingly desperate for more and more revenues. Just as the Great Depression brought and end to the prohibition of alcohol, the current never-ending recession will prompt the government to cut itself in on the enormous trade in marijuana.
When it does happen, all those 4-20 types around the country won’t necessarily be celebrating. They’ve been smoking tax-free so far, and will be surprised to find how very expensive is the government’s fair share. Pot has previously been free of regulatory oversight, as well, and bureaucrats are notorious buzz-kills. In our newspaper days checking the fly-sheets at the local jail we noticed that the only people who ever got arrested for marijuana were selling large amounts in a careless way or had small amounts in their pockets while they were being arrested for something else, but we’re sure law enforcement will take a more active interest in the matter when state funds are stake. They’ll miss that slight outlaw frisson, too, and some will consider take up tobacco to regain that rebel stand.
State governments are all in the numbers racket already, with their lotteries and casinos ruthlessly protected monopolies, and government itself can be understood as sanctified protection racket. In Puerto Rico they’re considering getting in on the prostitution to trade to erase a debilitating debt, along with other ideas ranging from legalizing weed to reviving the country’s once-great coffee trade, and the more indebted states will be tempted to do the same after they’ve taxed all their rich people into other jurisdictions. State-sanctioned marijuana, which would be far more palatable to those aging Baby Boomer Democrats and their haranguing feminist wives as well those libertarian Republicans and their religious friends, will soon be an easy sell to a cash-strapped public.
A better way to fill the public coffers would be to expand the broader economy with tax and regulatory incentives to create more productive goods and services, but that’s a harder sell. There are good arguments against putting someone in prison at taxpayer cost for smoking marijuana, and good arguments for taking small cut on that marijuana to keep someone in prison for something more detrimental to the society, but parks full of grubby neo-hippies and agencies full of rapacious bureaucrats is not going to be a successful combination.

— Bud Norman

Five Long Years of Stimulation

Monday marked the fifth anniversary of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, better known as “the stimulus,” but we did not observe the occasion with a celebration. What with the economy the way it is, and having failed to apply for any available federal funding, we could ill-afford a fancy party or a bottle of fine champagne.
There was a warm rush of nostalgia, however, as we recalled the giddy optimism that attended President Barack Obama’s lavishly ceremonial signing of the law. We were told that the law would cost a mere $800 billion, already a insignificant sum by Washington standards, and yet keep the unemployment rate from topping 8 percent and bring it down to 5 percent by 2013 with “shovel-ready jobs” while lifting two million Americans out of poverty and saving the world from global warming by creating a new “green energy” industry. Since then the cost has grown to $2 trillion, the unemployment rate hit 10.1 percent and stayed above 8 percent for four years before enough people finally gave up looking for a job to push it down to the current 6.6 percent, the poverty rate has risen to a 50 year high, the president has joked that the shovel-ready jobs were “not as shovel-ready as we expected,” and the “green jobs” that survived the bankruptcies of the subsidized companies turned out to cost about $5 million apiece. This winter’s wicked weather suggests some success in combating global warming, but otherwise an objective observer might reasonably conclude that all the optimism seems have been unfounded.
Still giddy after all these years, the law’s indefatigable apologists offer two lines of defense.
One is that even if the stimulus did not live up to its promises it did at least prevent the country from sliding into another Great Depression and the earth from sliding out of its orbit and into the sun. The White House economists did overstate the stimulative effect of the stimulus, according to this popular theory, but only because they had generously underestimated the damage done by the stinginess and de-regulatory zeal of that free-market-crazed cowboy George W. Bush. This ignores that only months before signing the stimulus into law Obama had criticized Bush’s “irresponsible” and “un-patriotic” budget deficits, and fails to name a single regulation Bush eliminated that might have caused the financial downturn, and conveniently omits any mention of the Clinton-era “affordable housing” policies and their sub-prime shenanigans that did in fact cause the crash, but it has the emotionally satisfying appeal of blaming Bush.
The other argument is that the stimulus failed to achieve its stated goals only because it was far too small. One might expect that a $2 trillion infusion of freshly-printed cash would be sufficient to stimulate some economic activity, especially if you throw in a third trillion from the Trouble Assets Relief Program passed just a few months earlier, but apparently not. The theory that if what you’re doing only seems to be making things worse you should do far more of it is not new, having been around at least since it informed the Roosevelt administration policies that prolonged the actual Great Depression for nine years before the massive stimulus program that was World War II came along, and its temptation to those handing out the money has not diminished over the years.
Neither of these arguments can be definitively disproved, as economics does not allow for the sorts of controlled laboratory experiments that would settle such questions in the harder sciences, but there does seem ample reason for a healthy skepticism. The notion that handing out a couple trillion dollars of Monopoly money to reliably Democratic constituencies is the only logical way to revive an economy has an inherently suspicious ring to it, and much of the stimulus money was spent in ways that are remarkably unproductive even by government standards.
Those cheeky iconoclasts at The Washington Free Beacon chose ten especially outrageous expenditures that illustrate the point. One program spent $389,357 to find why young men drink malt liquor and smoke marijuana, when we could have told them for a far more economical sum that it’s to in order to get drunk and high, and another spent $8,408 to find out if mice can get drunk, which could have been learned for the price of a mouse and a beer. Another spent $1.2 million on a University of California-San Francisco study of erectile dysfunction in overweight men, while Yale University was given $384, 949 to study duck penises. (This genital pre-occupation reminds of us an old bureaucracy joke too blue to repeat here, by the way, but if you’re interested shoot us an e-mail with proof that you’re of age in your state and we’ll pass it along.) Yet another $100,000 went to fund anti-capitalist puppet shows, a particularly peculiar way of promoting economic growth, and still another $600,000 was spent to plant trees in the wealthiest neighborhoods of Denver, which presumably offset the benefits to the hated rich with commensurate benefits to beloved and impoverished Mother Nature. If such wacky use of public funds does not convince you of the wisdom of the stimulus, perhaps the $1.3 million spent on signs advertising the benefits of the stimulus did the trick. Judging by the amount of Obamacare’s budget spent on advertising its blessings, the government seems quite convinced that you’ll fall for it again.
Which is not to say the apologists aren’t quite right, of course. Perhaps such spending did save the country from breadlines and a return to the hit parade for “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime,” and perhaps it would have worked better yet if only we’d be willing to shell out a cool million for even more duck penis revelations, and there is no denying that the earth hasn’t slipped out of its orbit and into the sun. We can’t quite shake a nagging suspicion that Keynesian is bunk, and that like global warming it’s a scam to legitimize the government’s ravenous appetite for power, but if we could afford a fine bottle of champagne we’d drink it.

— Bud Norman