The Campaign Spot

Our Delicate Stimulus

Presume for the sake of argument that the Obama administration is correct that the stimulus and their other efforts to decrease unemployment and build a prosperous economy could have worked, but were impeded by factors beyond their control: “This recession turned out to be a lot deeper than any of us realized,” “a string of bad luck,” “the Japanese earthquake” “an Arab Spring” “economic headwinds from Europe” “uncertainty from the debt-ceiling debate” “globalization” “automation” “ATMs,” and so on.

Put aside your inclination to roll your eyes and exclaim, “excuses, excuses” for a moment, and examine what this argument really is: Obama and his congressional allies came up with a plan that could work, but only if the conditions were right, or near-perfect. Any economic instability or unforeseen circumstance, in Japan, Europe, or the Arab world, would impede its effectiveness to the point where our current circumstances — 8.1 percent unemployment, millions under-employed, 2.2 percent quarterly GDP growth, etc. — are the very best anyone could possibly expect.

Then it would be fair to ask, it wasn’t much of a plan, was it?

The specifics of economic instability are hard to predict — if this were easy, we would all be successful investors — but the general phenomenon of economic instability around the globe doesn’t seem that hard to foresee. Europe and Japan have aging populations. China’s boom appears unstable and unsustainable. The Middle East never seems all that far from a conflict, and third-world countries, home to so much of the world’s industrial base, can suddenly find themselves torn apart by political and social instability. And was the success of Obama’s economic plan really contingent upon the raising of the debt ceiling, again and again, without contentious debate, for the entirety of his presidency?

If an economic plan can only be effective if it enjoys stable, growth-promoting conditions at home and abroad . . . how good a plan is it? Because a lot of plans can work in those circumstances.

Are there no other alternate plans or visions that are a bit more resilient? Ones that cultivate the entrepreneurship of hundreds of thousands of American businesses, large and small, instead of relying on officials in Washington to make the right decision again and again? Larry Summers himself said that the federal government makes a lousy venture capitalist, and the philosophy of extending the taxpayers’ resources to a business like Solyndra is privatizing the gains (it’s not like they would trade us the patent for their products) and socializing the losses.

Of course, we can argue, and will, that there were a lot more flaws in the stimulus and Obama’s overall economic philosophy than bad luck and factors beyond his control. But it’s worth noting that even if we accept the Obama interpretation of events and accounting for all of their excuses, he and his administration are asking America to buy into a plan has already proven too risky, too delicate, too easily impeded to be effective.

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