If there's one thing you can still count on from today's increasingly erratic politics, it is pure unadulterated paradox. In a Washington circus that features as many morons as oxymorons, we have self-described deficit hawks who promote tax cuts, alleged war opponents who back war escalations, and supposed anti-government conservatives who press to expand the national security state. Heck, we even have senators who famously brag of voting for things before voting against them.
That said, for sheer Ringling Brothers-grade flamboyance, none of those contradictions matches the one relating to money. As I show in my new newspaper column, with spectacular regularity, cash is now simultaneously billed as both all-powerful and completely powerless, depending on whom the particular definition serves.
Exhibit A is the December fight on Capitol Hill over spending and tax cuts. A standard back and forth over macroeconomics, the debate saw politicians of both parties assert that different ways of deploying taxpayer resources would guarantee different results from economic actors. Pass more tax cuts, said Republicans, and profit-seeking small-business owners will be motivated to hire more workers. Provide more unemployment benefits, said Democrats, and the jobless will be moved to spend more on consumer goods.
These messages, unflinchingly transcribed by a servile press corps, all echoed the basic assumption that money is the prime motivator of human action. The underlying theory is simple: Cash goes in, actions automatically come out. It makes basic mechanical sense ... until you listen to what else is being said at the same time.
ADDENDUM: As you'll see in the full column, I get into how the media regularly writes money out of the political stories of the day. You'll see that I specifically cite the New York Times' Matt Bai - and you'll note that just hours after my column came out, Bai published a 1,000 word piece in the New York Times about William Daley, not once mentioning Daley's J.P. Morgan job, his ties to other Big Money, or the possibility that Obama hired him precisely for those money ties.