Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Blow Up That Balloon or Bailout Money, There is a Difference

There is now widespread agreement that we lived, perhaps for the last ten years, in the grace of a bubble economy, built around inflating real estate and the cockamamie financial instruments that were derived from its financing.  It crashed so now anything not directly linked to something of real value goes to zero.  Everything else gets real.  Yet Geitner and Summers are trying to "blow that balloon up one more time," as I heard it said the other day.  Hence, billions of dollars of taxpayer money is being wasted on keeping AIG alive to maintain markets and agreements that have vaporized to pay off liabilities to banks that are under water.  Let it go.  

Meanwhile, good liberals want to spend even more Federal bailout money, seeing that unemployment is still growing like a new virus and the GNP, a term associated with the word "growth" for the last 25 years, is shrinking.  Why don't we decouple our thinking of GNP and employment?  Real growth, especially coming out of the ashes of economic collapse, usually comes with new waves of technology like we saw with railroads, radio, semiconductors and the internet.  Sometimes it is juiced with research help from the Feds, but mostly it is driven by private capital and entrepreneurs.  When we come out of this crash it will surely be built in part around green energy although that may take awhile.  

As for unemployment, the government has a vital role to play.  The debate among conservative and liberal economists is whether or not FDR's economic programs rescued the US economy.  I think it's the wrong question.  All the jobs of the CCC, the WPA, the WWII manufacturing jobs, these are not what the post WWII economic success was all about.  FDR's jobs, however, performed a far more important function.  Young men were kept off the street, averting the really large numbers of unemployed that can destabilized a country.  There is nothing more dangerous to a country than huge growing numbers of idle young men.  FDR kept the Republic together for another day, a day when other factors lined up such that there could again be economic growth.  

From this perspective, the building of a say a commuter rail line provides jobs, and a big environmental benefit too.  That's well-spent taxpayer money, even if it's borrowed from China and never getting paid back.  Bailing out failed banks or insurance companies, just keeps rewarding the guys who got us here in the first place.

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