Jonah Goldberg explains why we should fear that Barack Obama will emulate Franklin Roosevelt:
there can be a chasm between being right and merely appearing to be right. Why anyone stakes greater value on the appearance than reality is a mystery to me.
But as Obama clearly recognizes, that was a big part of the FDR magic. FDR came into office promising “bold, persistent experimentation” — and delivered. Raymond Moley, an early member of FDR’s “brain trust,” saw the New Deal for what it was. “To look upon these programs as the result of a unified plan was to believe that the accumulation of stuffed snakes, baseball pictures, school flags, old tennis shoes, carpenter’s tools, geometry books and chemistry sets in a boy’s bedroom could have been put there by an interior decorator,” Moley wrote later.
Yet Americans thought it was all part of a plan, even though experimentation and planning are in fact near opposites. Why? Because FDR always projected such confidence, even as he made things worse. But this isn’t another column about how FDR prolonged the Depression. Been there, done that. I’d rather be forward-looking.
In fact, I want to be experimental, too. So here’s my idea: Just stop.
Stop talking about bailouts and stimuli. Stop pondering ever more drastic action. Give it a rest. Let it be.
One of the main reasons there’s all of this “money on the sidelines” out there among private investors is that Wall Street doesn’t know what the government will do next. Will it bail out the auto industry? The insurance companies? Which taxes will go up? How far will interest rates go down? How long will the federal government own stakes in the banks? Will more stimulus checks go out? If so, how big will the deficit get?
Don’t just do something–stand there!
One of his readers says that this also explains the current market volatility:
Free market economics involves the application of immutable laws, and it’s those laws that allow us to forecast the effect of current events on various companies and the stocks and bonds they’ve issued. But investors will only play the game if they believe the rules aren’t going to change in the middle. When government begins ‘experimenting’, it makes it harder for investors to generate a long term forecast. This drives long term investors away from the market, or converts them into short term traders. The result is a massive increase in volatility as investors shorten their investment outlook because they can’t predict what’s going to happen far enough into the future.
Volatility is an indication of instability. It’s not a sign of a healthy economy but of an economy which has lost its way. High volatility isn’t what you expect from the worlds largest market, but from the emerging economy of a third world country. As you can see from the attached chart, when Roosevelt began his ‘bold persistent experimentation’ it drove away long term investors and that caused volatility to dramatically increase. It will almost certainly have the same effect when Obama does it.
Since he’s so determined not to learn from the mistakes of the past, I would expect him to repeat them. I’m betting that his poking and prodding will add to unemployment, reduce economic growth, and wreak havoc with the federal deficit. There is little doubt that he’s the wrong man at the wrong time. I’m just hoping that he is as devoid of principles as the Clintons, and that he finds a way to break his campaign promises or we’re in for a long painful recession, and maybe worse.
We can only hope, since we lost an opportunity to do any more than that a couple weeks ago.