Fifth, bring as many academics into the administration, and as few people from private enterprise, as possible. The point is to assure the private sector that those who are tenured and for most of their lives have been given guaranteed annual pay raises, who pontificate and theorize rather than create and build, will oversee their antitheses in the business community. Then just when their entire Keynesian blueprint is operative — have them all quit their jobs and return to places like Berkeley, Harvard, and the Council on Foreign Relations. If the image of hostility does not work in slowing down private enterprise, this impression of incompetence — and even cynicism — surely will.
Sixth, overregulation is a powerful tool for prompting a depression and should not be ignored. Promise to go well beyond passing cap-and-trade energy taxes (“an extraordinary first step”); convince businesses (“who can afford it”) with “price signals” that if higher taxes cannot take all their profits, their new energy bills most certainly will. Again, the point is to assure the business community that all that pop socialist talk on the campaign trail was serious stuff. If the president once joshed that energy bills were going to rise dramatically, now in a recession is the time to remind employers that, in fact, they will. Dovetail new energy regulations with vast new health-care and financial regulations. Once again, the message is that the wasteful, cruel private sector must be corralled by the far better public sector.
Seventh, gorge the beast. Try to get annual federal deficits up to the $1.3–$1.5 trillion range. Reagan tried to “starve the beast” — that is, to lower federal spending by lowering taxes. Why not do the inverse and borrow so much money, pile up so much debt, that even fiscal hawks will concede that higher taxes are necessary? It is a win/win/win/win/win proposition: Bigger deficits mean more federal spending, which means more federal employees, who will find more regulations to impose, which will cost employers more money and require higher taxes.
Eighth, take over as many private businesses as possible, the bigger the better — auto manufacturers, banks, insurers. Heck, absorb the entire student-loan program while you’re at it. Remind private businesses that their once-comfortable world of free-market capitalism isn’t so free any more. Dream up a cash-for-clunkers program that destroys the used-car market and lets government borrow billions to buy up old automobiles. “You’re next” is a valuable tool in warning businesses to keep a low profile and slow things down.
Ninth, do not forget to reset foreign policy. Let it be known that socialist systems abroad are no longer suspect. Reach out to Iran, Syria, Cuba, and Venezuela; snub free-market Israel and Colombia. Pick a fight with Germany over borrowing. Run down the value of the dollar. Talk about Keynesian deficits as a proper global model. Mimic the social policies of the European Union. Talk of protectionism and trade wars with China to come. Oppose free-trade agreements.
Tenth, assure businesses that they need more unions. Elevate the profile of the SEIU and ACORN. Get Andy Stern into the White House as much as possible. Make sure Hilda Solis over at Labor keeps up with those videos about exploited illegal aliens coming to her for help. Remind everyone how the UAW’s pensions, wages, and benefits are now protected by Government Motors. Ensure that in campaign appeals you list special-interest groups — “black folks,” young people, unions — to the deliberate exclusion of employers and businesses.
If this ten-step program were to be followed, we might just get unemployment up to near 10 percent, consumer confidence down to historical lows, food-stamp use to record highs, the dollar to a new low, and annual budget deficits at levels previously unimaginable. That way we will never waste a crisis, since all sorts of new possibilities open up once we turn a normal recession into a genuine old-fashioned depression.
— NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, the editor of Makers of Ancient Strategy: From the Persian Wars to the Fall of Rome, and the author of The Father of Us All: War and History, Ancient and Modern.