We have all been privy to the tongue-in-cheek exhortations “Don’t just stand there, do something!” or “Do something, even if it is wrong!” Now that those same urgings appear to rule the day at the seat of government, the humor is lost.
I am not quite old enough to remember President Franklin Roosevelt’s “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” in his first inaugural address, but that very attitude is as germane today as in March 1933. We are in need of a similar calming presence along with a requirement to take a long look before we leap.
This steady diet of fear, doom and gloom fed us by our media, our elected officials and special interest groups is reminiscent of the Hee Haw television cast’s “Gloom, despair and agony on me. If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all” plaint of the 1980s. The sources for these scare tactics reach across party lines — in government, talk radio, network and cable TV and the print media. With few exceptions, conservatives and liberals alike are guilty of feeding the politics of fear.
The major result of doomsday preaching is creation of panic among the public, an anxiety that causes people to avoid spending and instead to hoard assets rather than invest them or purchase necessities. Obviously in times of economic downturn, people are reluctant to make purchases or take risks; however, when they are constantly bludgeoned into believing that their economic world is threatened, personal spending falls off appreciably.
Additionally, when the fear mongers lay guilt trips on consumers for exhibiting "greed" in their acquisition of goods and services, a diminishing of public consumption is further exacerbated. One need not be an economist to understand that when people cease to purchase goods and services, the production of those commodities will first falter and then cease to exist — ergo jobs will disappear. Employment is the result of the cycle of production and consumption.
Consequently, along with the ongoing effort to turn the recession around, we need a government and a media that speaks with an air of optimism, a belief in the spirit and resilience of the American people and our oft-demonstrated ability to rise above debilitating circumstances. This is no time to put our tails between our legs and surrender, nor is it a time to expect the government to bail us out with a massive influx of funds. The idea of free money is enticing until one realizes that the government cannot give anyone a dollar without taking that dollar from the one who earned it.
This is not to say that the economy doesn’t need stimulation; the trials and tribulations of the housing and automobile markets have generated severe financial shortfalls as well as contributing mightily to a loss of confidence in the marketplace. This stimulus needs to be timely, effective and temporary — a quick influx of funds and tax relief that stimulates purchase and investment but does not become a permanent albatross for taxpayers.
The administration’s proposed $825 billion legislation passed by the House is perhaps a well-intentioned gesture in crisis management by throwing large amounts of money into the hopper in hopes that sheer volume will somehow solve the equation. Nevertheless, a large portion of that proposed, while timely, is neither effective nor temporary.
How many jobs will be created by appropriating $650 million more to purchase digital TV coupons, $400 million for global warming research, $2.4 billion for carbon capture, $2 billion for child care subsidies and $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts? Also there is $83 billion for unearned income tax credits for those who pay no income tax, another $81 billion for Medicaid, $66 billion for education, $20 billion for food stamps and $36 billion for expanded unemployment benefits. While a portion of this is necessary, none creates employment nor is temporary in nature.
Moreover, less than 12 percent of this package is earmarked for roads, bridges, airports and other public works projects, virtually none of which are positioned to be undertaken quickly enough for timely job stimulation. And for those who believe that “going green” will save the economy, the concomitant environmental roadblocks will merely extend and deepen the recession.
Finally, my faith in America and its people is such that I predict cooler heads will prevail in legislating a less costly stimulus package but also that the recession will end before much of it takes effect. Remember, we taxpayers foot the bill for the stimulus, and we need to be heard.
J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at JKarlUSMC@aol.com.