Monday, February 21, 2011

The Audacity of Politics

Last week Jeff Madrick used NYRBlog to post an analysis of the budget proposal released by the White House, which has received considerable media attention even under the risk of being upstaged by the revolutions currently brewing across the Middle East.  As usual his objective analysis of specific items in terms of both short-term and long-term consequences was admirable.  However, I was not prepared for his conclusion, however obvious it may now seem in retrospect.

The most important paragraph, which comes near the end of the piece, is the following:

In the end, what this document tells us is that the Obama 2012 presidential campaign has begun. Unfortunately, the political priorities addressed here do not coincide with what is best for the economy. Federal stimulus is running out and the economic recovery could weaken again. Additional stimulus by Congress could have taken pressure off the Federal Reserve, which is now bearing the burden of doing its own stimulus through quantitative easing, involving purchasing up to $600 billion in Treasury bills from large banks. Down the road that could lead to inflation.

That first sentence is then reinforced by two sentences about Barack Obama in the final paragraph:

He is now doing what he seems to do best. He is campaigning for the 2012 election.

Ultimately, the lesson of the 2010 elections is that the economic future of our country will not be determined by the best rational analysis that economists and other social scientists can offer (not that we ever assumed it would be).  Rather, it will be decided by which campaigns best appeal to the emotional frustration of an electorate that has been robbed of any viable future for themselves and their children.  In other words those who will vote in 2012 currently find themselves in the same boat as those currently protesting in the Middle East (at least according to my own take on Fareed Zakaria’s recent analysis on the Web site).

Can we recover our sense of the future?  The prospect is not good, considering the opposition we face.  On the one hand we have the consciousness industry controlled by businesses that never seem to be able to look beyond the numbers projected for the next quarterly report.  On the other we have politicians, who can only see as far as the next election and the balance of partisan power likely to result.  These are not factors that will put Americans back to work, address the weaknesses of an infrastructure one step away for life-support, or recognize the extent to which our future now depends on what China chooses to do with their stake in our debt.

Those familiar with Plato’s “Laws” are probably well aware of the dim view he took of factionalism.  He goes so far as to compare factional warfare with the need to combat an “external alien.”  He does not go so far as to consider the extent to which the general public can become victims of factional warfare;  but that is basically the future that every American must now consider seriously, however hard the consciousness industry may try to distract us.

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