NR Digital

Athwart

Proper Aim

by James Lileks

Ask any employer, and you’ll hear the same lament: We’d love to hire people, but we need an inexplicable modification of the tax code exquisitely calibrated to provide a tiny incentive. Well, the president has intuited their needs, and brought forth a bill that will get the nation moving again. At first it was rather vague, and we wondered whether we’d have to pass it in order to know what’s in it — a phrase that should be spoken only by a doctor in reference to a stool sample — but now we have some hard-core specifics. It goes something like this:

Employer (hereafter, “enemy of the people”) shall receive, or get, or be entitled to get by way of receiving, a 0.05 percent quarterly reduction in the adjusted tax rate for fiscal 2012 according to Schedule B pursuant to the 1983 amendments to Article 3, Subsection II, of the Tax Simplification Act of 1982, if Employer shall hire a person who has been unemployed for more than, but not less than, but equal to, in the sense of being the same as, nine months (averaged as calendrical units of 29 days each); “unemployment” shall be construed for purposes of this act to mean continuous sitting on the sofa, staring blankly at the wall, wishing that listening to those old Springsteen records helped, but man, it just doesn’t.

This shall not be construed as a replacement of the 1933 Fitz-Sturgeon Employers Credit Reduction Addition Act, or the 2001 revisions of the 2000 revisions of the 1993 Transparency in Government Act (Latin-language version). Offer may be withdrawn at any time. Void where prohibited. Ask your doctor if this bill is right for you.

That ought to do it. Then there’s the Rick Perry approach: See that tax over there, sittin’ on the fencepost? Okay, I’m going to shoot it with my eyes closed and it’s gonna not be there afterwards. Here, hold my beer.

The Perry approach has two things going for it: simplicity, and effectiveness. When Obama ascended to the Oval Office, it was seen as the rise of the Smart People, the cool and credentialed intellects who could tweak and recalibrate the magnificent machinery of government. Inequity: down, somehow. Also sea levels. We would have a green economy; the evening news would run stories on high-school dropouts who now design software for wind farms or invent solar-powered tofu extruders.

The Perry approach: That’s fine, but you see that car there? Runs on gas. Might want to find some. I hear we got a barrel or two ’round these parts.

If the Perry approach is gaining traction, it’s because the administration seems unable to realize that its ideas do not work. You cannot Taser a corpse and expect it to get up and dance. You cannot help the pork-slaughtering industry if the EPA declares “squeals” to be an environmental toxin, and when the plant moves to Mexico it really doesn’t help if you announce a tax break to convert the facility to an interactive museum about the struggles of abattoir unionists. Even if Matt Damon reads the narration for the multimedia exhibit. Granted, that’s one job saved or created, but it’s not really an even swap.

The jobs bill may do less of what didn’t work before. It has the same fallacies as the stimulus: Prosperity magically happens when you take money from the kulaks and hoarders, and build high-speed trains for teachers. Sure, you may say it’s an inefficacious gout of liquefied folly sloshed over the stony ground of a moribund economy, but at least it’s paid for. More or less. Sort of. It’ll cost $447 billion — not $448 billion, as some had feared — and the bulk of the money will come from curtailing itemized deductions, i.e., subsidies for the rich who donate a chair to the college library. The seat makes a whoopie-cushion razz when used by someone whose father wasn’t an alum. The CBO says the charitable-deduction limitations wouldn’t raise more than $300 billion or so, but perhaps the administration is counting on Warren Buffett settling with the IRS for the make-up money. Pass this bill!

The Rick Perry approach: That’s a half-trillion dollars y’all could spend personally on things you like. So let’s not do that.

Not to say the Perry approach is the only alternative. As we saw in the tea-party debate, Mitt Romney has a seven-part plan, which excites people who think PowerPoint presentations are always too dang short. Ron Paul has a plan that consists of yelling at paper money until it turns into shiny silver dimes, and so on. All the serious candidates are swinging axes at the status quo, not picking at gnats with tweezers. This is good. The tea party has changed the terms. A candidate can’t say he’ll keep driving the federal locomotive towards the cliff but promise he’ll ease up on the throttle and lean out of the right side of the engine instead of the left. Now it’s full stop, decouple half the cars, and scrap subsidies to develop sails to power the train. For Davy Crockett’s sake, get me some coal. Perry may not be everyone’s choice, but he’s surely the anti-Obama. Simplicity of purpose, uncomplicated disdain for egghead solutions, good humor with a dash of mean-hombre swagger — when Perry tucks his chin as he listens to a question, it’s like he’s crafting a response, but also thinking how you’d dance if he shot at your feet — these qualities smother the professorial palaver of the administration with scorn and impatience.

“Pass this bill” vs. “Get ’er done.”

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