If you are sitting in class taking a test, and you've chosen to sit amongst your bone-headed, slacker friends, don't turn to them for help when you can't figure out of any of the answers. They may all tell you the same thing, but they'll all be wrong.
That's the situation President Obama finds himself in today in the White House. Having surrounded himself with the very Wall Street con men who set up the crooked game that led to the current financial crisis and economic collapse, and finding that the lousy advice they have been giving him since last January has left the country still mired in deepening economic decline, with the banks still not lending and unemployment still mounting, and with growing signs that instead of bottoming out and starting to recover, the economy is threatening to fall a second time, to new lows and higher unemployment, Obama has turned to the same rotten advisors for answers.
A few days ago, in an interview with Fox-TV while he was in China off all places (a country that has made a stupendous stimulus investment to create domestic jobs!) Obama warned, for the first time, that America faces the possibility of a "double-dip" recession. That's fine as far as it goes. I agree. But what did he say the risk was? Not that the government has been failing to put significant numbers of people back to work, but that the government keeps piling up deficits.
This has to be the lamest economic thinking since Herbert Hoover started tightening the screws on government spending at the onset of the Great Depression in 1930.
Clearly the American government needs to do just the opposite of worrying about deficits. The only growth the U.S economy has seen to date has been the result of government funding -- the cash-for-clunkers program gave a brief restoration of pulse to the auto industry, and the $8000 tax credit for buying a first home kicked up home sales briefly. We know this because when the clunkers program ended, auto sales crashed, and when the deadline approached for the end to the new home tax credit, home building plunged almost 11%. The hundreds of billions of dollars poured into so-called "shovel-ready" state and local projects like roads, schools, etc., may have added or saved as much as a million jobs, but the economy lost many times that many jobs over the same period.
The problem with these stimulus programs is that they are inefficient ways to create jobs or preserve jobs. If roughly one million jobs were created through the stimulus spending of say $200 billion (assuming that the February $800-billion stimulus program, to mollify Republicans, consisted of one-half tax cuts and only one-half actual federal spending, and that this federal spending was spread evenly over a two-year period, that's $200,000 per job!
If, instead, Obama had chucked the dunces at Treasury and in his Council of Economic Advisors, and instead asked your Labor Secretary to initiate a wide-ranging $200-billion-per-year jobs program, hiring the unemployed at perhaps $20-25,000 per person to do everything from teach in overcrowded urban schools to laying high-speed rail trackbeds, from cleaning up parks to putting insulation in homes, he could have given jobs to close 8 million people -- people who would have then spent their money on goods and services and helped rally the economy from the bottom up.
Deficits? Who gives a damn about deficits at this point! The country is up to the gills in debt without creating any jobs. (It's kind of like my mortgage. Why would I worry about using my credit card to buy food for the week if I was low on cash, when my mortgage has me deep in the red for the next ten years? Obama's financial advisors, on the evidence, would tell me I should let my family go hungry, because I need to worry about my total debt load.) If you're worried about deficits, Mr. Obama, end the god-damned wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is costing one million dollars a year to send one lousy grunt to Afghanistan or Iraq. And you want to have at least 100,000 guys over there. That's $100 billion a year right there -- enough to hire four million unemployed Americans back here at home!
This president is well on the way to rescuing President Hoover from history's crap heap by one-upping him in the realm of economic mismanagement. We already have Obamavilles springing up around the country. We haven't started calling them that, but Naming Day isn't far off.
At least Hoover didn't mire the country in another war while the economy was collapsing around him.
President Obama is on a short leash at this point. His fans, and I was one of those who was willing to give him a shot last November, are mostly giving up on him. Activists are already turning on him. My union friends are disgusted. My African-American friends just shake their heads in dismay. Liberal friends act embarrassed. A leftist friend, retired, who devoted a month to campaigning for Obama full time in Pennsylvania last fall now writes angry letters almost weekly to Obama's former campaign manager David Plouffe and others, blasting Obama's handling of the bank crisis and his Afghan War plans. Clearly Obama cannot continue to appease Republicans and cater to Blue Dogs in Congress and expect to be re-elected in 2012.
Indeed, if he doesn't toss the crooks and charlatans in the Fed, the Treasury and his Council of Economic Advisers out, and doesn't stop listening to the self-serving crazies in the military, he won't even have a Democratic majority in Congress by the end of next year.
President Obama, aren't you tired of being an embarrassment to your friends and family? Aren't you tired of being mocked by your foes?
Come on. We're sick of your speeches! Suck it up, be a leader.finally and kick some butt. Do something unconventional and daring. End the wars, bring the troops home, announce a huge jobs program, issue an executive order expanding the Medicare program, raise taxes on the wealthy to back where they were in the 1960s, and let's get the country moving forward again.
Dave Lindorff is a Philadelphia-based journalist. His latest book is The Case for Impeachment (St. Martin's Press, 2006). His work is available at www.thiscantbehappening.net