stole introduced the idea of a linkfest several months ago and then promptly abandoned it for no valid reason other than laziness. That was dumb; my aggregator is out of control. So here we go again.
LINK: I’m on record as opposing any stimulus package that Congress will inevitably pass. With that out of the way, almost any opportunity for politicians to grab power via an ever-expanding government will pass. If we’re getting a waste of money shoved down our throats, it might as well be something good. I’d argue for tax reform mislabeled as stimulus. Not targeted tax cuts, not tax credits, not gimmicks. Real reform should address two goals: simplifying and flattening the tax code. It took us a long time to put ourselves in this precarious position. We will be undoing this mess for a long time. Any plan that pretends there’s a quick fix will cost us more than the superficial appearance of improvement we will claim.
That’s not what will happen, so I’m left to judge the merits of proposals like this from a Seattle small business owner:
A better choice would be something Americans are likely to spend, and without huge logistical headaches: a gift card. By sending every taxpayer a $2,000 debit card, the government stimulates spending directly. The card doesn’t get deposited with a bank, a step that greatly reduced the use of last year’s rebate checks for new spending, and with a defined expiration time, perhaps a year, the program could help precisely while other programs get underway.
In the context of bad ideas, it’s less bad. But then it leads to the appearance of sanity, or worse, as the author’s conclusion suggests:
I would be grateful for such a card, and I imagine that the owners of any of my remaining local restaurants would be as proud to receive such a card as I would be to use it.
I would feel a lot things if that idea comes to fruition, but pride would not be on the list.
For a better perspective, economist Jeffrey Miron outlines a smart
stimulus reform plan.
LINK: I didn’t blog about President Obama’s inaugural address because I was apathetic. Still, his speech made me angry because he tried to marginalize anyone who would challenge the idea of a Dear Leader. I will never apologize for staking out a principle when challenged by what is popular. Fifty-percent-plus-one is not the same as winning the debate. So, in place of what I would’ve expressed several weeks ago, I’ll point you to Will Wilkinson’s essay, “We need cynics:
“Trash the cynic” is a stock tactic of popular politicians, used to weaken remaining resistance to their agenda. The admiring public gets a warm sense of cohesive uplift while the loyal opposition is cast in an unflattering light: outmoded, small-spirited, irrelevant. Those who would argue are made to look petty—whether or not they have a good point. Obama is a master of this game. And George W. Bush was no slouch when he, too, had a gale of popular opinion at his back and a mandate to “do something” in a season of crisis.
I started as a skeptic. I’ve always believed in the right of the individual to his liberty. Government could not legitimately revoke that liberty, and even its good intentions ended in damage. But experience with government turned me into a cynic. Government is, at best, oblivious to unintended negative consequences or complaints about intended preferential consequences. What is obvious is dismissed, often in the way Obama sought to marginalize opposition. As Mr. Wilkinson states:
One needn’t be a “cynic” to be wary of surging popular passions or unchecked executive power. This caution is built into our Constitution. The American system of government was designed to moderate ambition and thwart big plans. Checks and balances do embody skepticism of unregulated power, but that skepticism is the soul of good government, not its nemesis. Yes, the bottlenecks in the system aggravate crusading popular presidents, which is why so many have chipped away at their constraints. That’s why the system no longer checks nor balances as it should. That’s why Obama entered the Oval Office with unprecedented executive power.
LINK: Demonstrating concisely why I’m a cynic on the craptacular stimulus idea in general and President Obama’s fear-mongering in particular, Mr. Wilkinson delivers a line that explains how spending solves a debt problem. I wish I’d written it.
This may seem a bit like dumping gas on a person on fire so that they can more easily burn through the wall standing between them and the lake.
The rest of his blog entry is worth reading.