Watching the Sunday political shows today was certainly discouraging. It is perfectly clear that essentially no economic thinking underlies the stimulus bill that will move through the House next week. It’s simply seen by the Democratic leadership as an opportunity to spend a lot of money on various causes they’ve wanted to support for years and to increase the reach of the government into the economy. They offer no sense of just how their solution relates to the problem our economy faces; no reason to think that they will ever pull back from the levels of spending and of intervention they now envision; and no excuses for even the most egregious examples of profligate waste in the plan.
The most outstanding example was certainly Nancy Pelosi, interviewed on ABC. Here’s a good sample:
STEPHANOPOULOS: We also heard from Congressman Boehner coming out of the meeting today that again a lot of that spending doesn’t even meet the same test you just talked about right now. Hundreds of millions of dollars to expand family planning services. How is that stimulus?
PELOSI: Well, the family planning services reduce cost. They reduce cost. The states are in terrible fiscal budget crises now and part of what we do for children’s health, education and some of those elements are to help the states meet their financial needs. One of those – one of the initiatives you mentioned, the contraception, will reduce costs to the states and to the federal government.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So no apologies for that?
PELOSI: No apologies. No. we have to deal with the consequences of the downturn in our economy.
At some point, and possibly soon, some significant chunk of the public will wake up to the essential recklessness of our government’s reaction to this financial crisis, and to the failure of technocratic expertise made evident by both the crisis itself and the response to it. The Democrats could turn out to be sorely mistaken in imagining that what we are seeing is making the public hungry for government management and manipulation of the economy. We might well enter a profoundly populist moment instead.
None of that means that government action isn’t necessary now, or that a serious stimulus is a bad idea. But it does suggest that Washington needs to be very careful in just how it responds to the crisis and how it explains itself as it does so. The early indications certainly suggest the Democrats don’t see that. It would be nice if Republicans did, and offered a responsible, even if politically futile, alternative that at least gave the public another way to think about the problem, and the government’s appropriate role in the economy.