Sunday, January 18, 2009

Very Mixed Feelings

Tibor R. Machan

Clearly I am not euphoric about the inauguration of Barack Obama, certainly not the way that millions appear to be across America. In fact some of this euphoria is very disappointing to me because, well, it is too tribal, too much a matter of “one of us got elected.” Never mind his political vision, his prospective policies, his way of conceiving of his job.

Then, too, the fact that Mr. Obama is talking about a “new Declaration of Independence” is frightening--what on earth would he want to change about the old one? Don’t human beings have basic, unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of their happiness? Aren’t governments supposed to exist so as to secure these rights? Are they not supposed to derive their just powers from the consent of the governed? So, you can see I am very suspicious about the wisdom of this upcoming presidency.

On the other hand it is something welcome that a member of a minority group that had had it very bad over most of the history of the United States of America managed to become the presiding officer of the government of this country. It’s about time, I agree. The de facto and de jure disenfranchisement of African Americans in America’s political history has been a shameful thing and it is high time to give it up. So the symbolism of Mr. Obama’s presidency is worth celebration, even by those who find most--though not everything--of what he is likely to champion in his high office questionable.

But then I reflect again on some of the negatives of these developments, such as how much Mr. Obama appears still to rely not on any substance but mere style. The man looks like he walked off the cover of GQ but, as with many who adorn the covers of that and other magazines featuring beautiful people, there is no evidence of any in depth political wisdom coming from him. All that talk about change was bunk--no change of any importance is likely to come from the Obama administration apart from what is expected from any liberal democratic presidency. And that kind of change I find nothing but repugnant--a nostalgic throwback to the New Deal, for example, and an open embrace of the idea of wealth redistribution.

And while mentioning the New Deal, let’s make it clear that there is nothing in the policies of that era that promises to solve any of this country’s economic problems. As Alan Brinkley wrote recently in, of all places, The New Republic, “....Roosevelt’s initiatives did not, in the end, left the country out of the Great Depression. At no time in the first eight years of the New Deal did unemployment drop below 15 percent. At no time did economic activity reach levels comparable to those of a decade earlier; and, while there were periods when the economy seemed to be recovering, none of them lasted very long. And so this bold, active, and creative moment in our history proved to be a failure at its central task. Understanding what went wrong could help us avoid making the same mistakes today....” (December 31, 2008), p. 12.

Yet most of the economists surrounding Mr. Obama are proud Keynesians, economists who believe one can work out of economic downturns by artificial, government spending, spending that ultimately amounts to stealing from the American taxpayer and handing the funds to politicians and bureaucrats who claim, for reasons that are totally mysterious, to have a good idea how to spend it (after they have skimmed a good deal of it off for themselves).

What would be a good thing, and make the Obama presidency something truly promising, is if he listened to economists who do not fantasize about producing prosperity by means of wealth redistribution. These economists teach that entrusting our resources to politicians and bureaucrats is futile because these men and women have no clue what Americans want and thus will necessarily, even if they don’t always intend to, serve a special and very narrow agenda, usually that of their own most influential constituents.

In short, these economists argue that the public interest is pursued best by, guess what, the public! And Mr. Obama appears thus far to reject this idea and that means economic malaise, not any kind of recovery.

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