Thursday, February 26, 2009
Fidelity's Ned Johnson has likened the proposals Barack Obama floated in his recent address to Congress to FDR's New Deal. The phrase "New Deal II" was not intended as a compliment, but the comparison is problematic for many reasons. Not least among them is the fact that too many dispute the damage wrought by the New Deal to the American recovery. One need look no further than the end of the article in the Boston Herald to see another banking executive, William Cheney of John Hancock Financial, claim that the only flaw with the New Deal is that FDR attempted at some point to reduce government spending.
I say "problematic" of the comparison, but I can't say it's so bad one can't use it. For one thing, the comparison is inevitable, and for another, the premises behind the New Deal, and the commonplace that it brought America out of the Depression must both be challenged. Indeed, this aspect of the "problem" looks like an argument in favor of making the comparison -- if one can elaborate. Johnson seems to know this.
"During the '30s, Congress - with guidance from the president and the same kind of good intentions - shifted the country's cash flow away from productive businesses to government make-work projects, which most likely prolonged the Great Depression," wrote Johnson, arguably Boston's most powerful business executive.The good news is that this is now "out there". The bad news is that, as the Boston Herald puts it, "Not surprisingly, others’ views on Johnson’s views depended on their interpretation of economic history."
As for the financial-system crisis, Johnson also took a somewhat anti-government conservative view toward its causes, saying "this climate was caused by many well-intentioned policies - stimulated by individuals at high levels in government and sanctioned by regulatory structures."
Those policies helped make "money ridiculously easy to obtain and business people eager to comply with the policies," Johnson wrote.
It should, therefore, come as no surprise that, in a newspaper article, the two quotes that follow consist of the worst kind of appeasement imaginable -- well-intentioned and coming from a supposed ally in the fight for capitalism -- and a rebuttal of Johnson's excellent points premised on conventional wisdom and coming from another top financial executive.
I'll note the first rebuttal and move on.
Daniel Mitchell, a senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute, said Johnson's remarks were on the "right path," though he said they might be "kind of risky" if they anger government policymakers.So it's "risky" to leave unchallenged the premise behind a government power-grab? Why? Because the government might order you around if you do?
I beg to differ with this. While deliberately antagonizing someone with a gun pointed to your head -- I mean, "government policymakers" -- is not a good idea, we are in heap big trouble -- and need to know that -- if merely exercising one's freedom of speech is all it takes to do that. How else can one fight back against such a power grab, or at least lay the groundwork for fighting back?
Calling well-grounded criticism of a government proposal "risky" is a shameful confession of cowardice stemming directly from a failure to understand the importance of philosophical ideas and freedom of speech.
The title gives my preferred metaphor for Obama's speech, but it wouldn't make the issue of "what about FDR?" go away.
PS: A secular conservative commentator sees Obama turning out to be another FDR rather than another Carter, despite the fact that, as Myrhaf puts it, "We now live in an America in which Atlas Shrugged was published over 50 years ago." Whatever Obama does achieve, it will be because he has Republican help.
Consider that, in reacting to a speech in which Obama has declared a desire to socialize medicine (among many other bad things), Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) said that, "With few exceptions, it was a speech I could have given...." I would not expect much in the way of substantive opposition to Obama from the Republicans:
Boehner said Republicans are not in the "legislative business" and will be more effective voicing "better solutions" and communicating them to the American people rather than producing a specific legislative agenda.So, what would I do in his shoes?
I'd study up on Brian Phillips' virtual candidacy for Mayor of Houston, adopt a pro-individual rights platform (adapted to national concerns), and start making one pro-freedom proposal after another.
If not adopted, such proposals would (a) create a clear track record of the Democrats' opposition to individual rights, (b) differentiate the Republicans from the Democrats, and (c) demonstrate that the Republicans are no longer just "the other big-government party". If, miraculously, any were adopted, the Republicans would get credit for actually aiding the recovery.
It is for the day when we can see such opposition that I work today.