Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

24 August 2010

In Bed With Boehner?

[For those readers who wonder whether I may have missed the Beck-Palin travesty and desecration of national values Saturday, I didn’t. I simply thought it unworthy of comment. Here is a response to Beck and Fox that I can get behind. Please send the link to everyone you can.]

Talk about aghast! Today I became aware that Minority Leader John Boehner―whom I loathe―has called for the resignations of Summers and Geithner, just as I have in my previous post.

Politics sometimes makes strange bedfellows, but this is ridiculous. The very fact that such a world-class liar and Olympian demagogue could second my suggestion makes me doubt my own carefully considered opinion. Not one word (however untrue) escapes Boehner’s mouth except as carefully calculated to put the President in a bad light and induce the ignorant and uniformed to blame the President for problems that arose in Dubya’s administration or whose roots go back decades.

So lest I be deemed a “useful idiot” and accomplice to the biggest (or most venal) idiot in Congress, I feel the need to explain my views and point out how they differ from Boehner’s.

First of all, there’s a small matter of timing. My last post appeared one week ago, long before Boehner’s speech on the same subject. Not only that: I made the very same suggestion regarding Geithner on February 24 of last year, eighteen months ago. Two weeks before that, I wrote a post questioning Geithner’s commitment to transparency and accountability. So if Boehner is copying me and others of like mind, he’s a bit late.

Second and more important, my reasons for wishing Summers and Geithner gone are exactly the opposite of Boehner’s. Boehner wants to return to the policies that got us in our current state, namely, lower taxes for the rich, less regulation for banks and businesses, more dirty coal and more drilling off our coasts. I want exactly the opposite: a more progressive tax structure, heavy regulation of banks and finance (to avoid, among other things, another derivatives meltdown), a rapid phasing out of coal, and heavy emphasis on alternative energy and other infrastructure as means of economic recovery, atmospheric relief and reducing our abject economic dependence on the Saudi-Iraq-Iran Axis.

In a detailed post, I explained why I think heavy investment in infrastructure is the only sound solution to our sluggish economy that won’t unduly disturb the international balance of trade so painfully developed over several centuries of military and economic upheaval. In contrast, Boehner consistently derides any hint of stimulus as more “big government,” even as we slip into a double dip.

So on every point of substance, my approach to solutions is the polar opposite of Boehner’s. Why, then, do I agree with him that Summers and Geithner should go?

Well, the first point is that Boehner hears the music but not the words. Like an hyena scavenging for every morsel of rotting flesh, he homes in on any criticism of the President, however muted and subtle. It doesn’t matter whether that criticism coheres with his own simplistic ideology or whether his parroting of it makes any sense at all.

Either Boehner is too stupid to follow the logic, or he is confident those he demagogues will not. He is counting on those who believe in him hearing only the criticism and none of the reasons. If his brand of demagoguery is effective for more than a quarter of voters, the game is over: we have already lost our democracy and are just waiting for its death throes.

Having said that, I stand by my call for replacing Summers and Geithner, but for entirely different reasons. Like Rumsfeld on invading Iraq, they have no plan. At least if they have one, they have not disclosed it.

Boehner calls the President’s policies “job killing.” But the fact is there are no jobs to kill. According to the Wall Street Journal, non-financial business in our nation is sitting on a cash hoard of $ 8.4 trillion (that’s trillion dollars, with a “t,” two-thirds of our entire national debt). If the private sector wanted to, it could end this recession overnight , just by using that cash hoard to invest and hire. But it isn’t and it won’t.

Our private sector seems fresh out of ideas, innovation, and moxie. That’s not surprising, seeing as how recently 41% of its collective profit was tied up in finance. Or our business leaders may be cynically holding back to influence the coming elections in the hope of getting lower taxes and less regulation from a change of political winds.

To the extent they speak on national issues at all, private-sector leaders are wallowing in self-regard, self-pity and finger-pointing. Besides Warren Buffett―who’s an investor, not an industrialist―there is not a single business leader of national stature today who has any ideas for helping our economy. There is no one who even reaches the knees of men like Andrew Carnegie, Thomas Edison, John D. Rockefeller, Henry Ford, Andy Grove, or Bill Gates.

Under these circumstances, government is all we’ve got. Yet government, too, is strangely silent. Perhaps it’s been cowed by Boehner and his Party of No. Perhaps it believes, as I do, that massive public investment in infrastructure could move us off the dime but just won’t say so. If that’s the case, then I suspect Geithner’s penchant for secret manipulation has played a part.

Politics may also be playing a part. Perhaps the President and his team are reluctant to make concrete proposals that Boehner and his Party of No will deride as “more big government,” especially so close to an election. But without concrete proposals, the nation seems rudderless and the Administration feckless. That’s no way to win an election.

I would love to see the President drive a Chevy Volt up to the White House, point commandingly toward it, just as JFK did at the Moon in 1962, and say “we Americans are going to be the world leaders in electric cars and fast-charging infrastructure in five years.” I would love to hear him set a goal of retiring 40% of our coal-fired power capacity (20% of our total electric power production) by 2020. JFK energized our nation and rebuilt our confidence with his push to the Moon in 1962. We need something like that to get us moving again.

Maybe Summers and Geithner have ideas like these. But I’ve never heard or read them. No doubt they are extremely bright men, well trained and expert in their fields. But they are also cloistered men―one from academia and the other from the austere halls of central banks. Neither seems to have any idea how to re-energize the American public and instill a new sense of confidence, let alone to best a grizzled street fighter like John Boehner.

Paul Volcker does. Although in his early eighties, he had a simple plan: his “Volcker rule,” which prohibits banks from making speculative investments contrary to their customers’ interests. He brought it before Congress and the public, and he got it passed into law. Without it, the huge financial reform act would be little more than a charade.

At 83, Volcker is a little old to be duking it out with the much younger Boehner, who seems to have an inexhaustible supply of energy and lies. But that’s the idea. We and the President need economic advisors who have good, new ideas that will work, and who can sell them to the public and the Congress or goad the President into doing so. Grey hair and some battle scars would help.

The way to beat the Party of No is not to mimic its policy stasis, but to renew the kind of dynamism and optimism that got the President elected. Summers and Geithner have had nearly two years to do that and have come up short. So they should make way for new blood. If Boehner seconds the motion for his own venal reasons, perhaps he hopes that his endorsement will be the kiss of death for an otherwise good idea.

Site Meter


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home