Monday, January 19, 2009

Obama Worries

Fred Barnes of The Weekly Standard lists four things that he fears in an Obama administration. They are: He doesn't know what he's talking about, He's a pushover, He's another Jimmy Carter on foreign and national security policy, and that he has nerves of jello.

I'd like to add my own worst fear - that he is too enamored with the power of big government and doesn't respect its limitations.

Obama says that he can fix the economy, all we need is to spend a lot of money and wait a while. The problem with a stimulus is that you have to apply it at the right time and the right place. If you miss your window then you just end up running up the national debt and increasing inflation with nothing to show for it. In addition, as Max Borders at TCSDaily points out, the economy is not a machine. It is so large and complex that it should be considered organic rather than mechanical. Worse, it is partly psychological. We fear therefore we save.

Obama's whole stimulus package is based on being able to redirect society with some government control and money. He's going to invest heavily in green energy. Clinton tried something like that - he had a joint project between the Big Three automakers and the military. The goal was to produce a supercar with exceptional milage. The project was a complete failure.

Obama isn't alone in overestimating the power of government. George Bush has the same problem. Look how well it turned out for him. In fact, the most successful president of the last few decades was Reagan who joked that the scariest words in the English language are, "I'm from the government and I'm here to help."

Reagan understood that, for reasons that are inherent in its structure, there are any things that the government does poorly.

Take Katrina and New Orleans as an example. Thousands of people refused to evacuate. Government-built flood walls broke, and those thousands of people had to be rescued. The press crucified Bush for all of this, especially the parts that he had no influence over. In the aftermath, FEMA made countless errors. Bush accepted the blame for this and promised to do better. Bush's opponents insisted that all of the problems could have been avoided had there been better leadership at the top. Reagan would have pointed out that the government was doing the best that it could but it will never get everything right.

There are 300 million people in the United States. The government touches us all many different ways. That means that there are a billion different things that can go wrong. Obama thinks that he can fix all of these from the top down.

Take Social Security. One projection is that it will go from being a surplus to a deficit in the next two years. Its supporters shrug this off saying that it will simply have to start dipping into the trust fund. The problem is that there is no trust fund. There is just a pile of IOUs that the government wrote to itself. In order to redeem these, Obama will have to cut spending somewhere else or cut benefits or do both. There are powerful political groups opposing each option but Obama says that fixing Social Security will be easy.

When the government fixes things it often makes them immeasurably worse. Last year, in response to reports of lead in Chinese imports, Congress passed new legislation requiring everything marketed to children 12 and under to be tested for lead. Everything. Toys, books, stickers, clothes, shoes, telescopes. And it doen't matter how small your production run is, either. If you sell wooden toys finished with linseed oil at a craft show or self-published a children's book, you will have to have your product tested. This is how government fixes things.

But Obama doesn't see this as a limitation. He stood on the Capitol Building and told the crowd that anything is possible.

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