OK, after you blow through the first stimulus package, what should the next attempt at economic recovery look like? The now-notorious Joe Biden says that the president and his advisers "misread" the economy. But actually, that's not quite right: What you see depends on where you look. The Obama administration did fine by Goldman Sachs over the last six months; the Wall Street firm-- home to so many past, present, and future Treasury officials-- announced profits of $3.4 billion for the second quarter. So the Upper East Side of Manhattan and Greenwich, Conn. are doing just fine. But elsewhere, nationwide, unemployment has shot up to 9.5 percent. Whoever thought that a liberal Democratic president would worry more about Wall Street than Main Street?
Now Warren Buffett, a strong Obama supporter, compares the stimulus package enacted in February to "Viagra" and "candy," predicting that unemployment will hit 11 percent.
These gloomy points were further underscored by Mortimer Zuckerman, the real estate/media mogul, whose a editorial last week for The Wall Street Journal appeared under the ominous headline, "The Economy Is Even Worse Than You Think."
Zuckerman cites a grim armada of statistics to bolster his argument, the most telling of which is that the average work week for private-sector employees slipped to just 33 hours, the lowest level since the government began tracking such data 45 years ago. That is, more and more "employed" people are really only able to work part time. Meanwhile, hourly compensation is flat, averaging $18.53 an hour in June. So do the math: Declining working hours, multiplied by flat wages, equals declining income--the further erosion of the American Dream.
And in his grim litany, Zuckerman doesn't even mention the "cap-and-trade" legislation the Obama administration has already pushed through one house of Congress; that bill would cost the economy millions of jobs. Fortunately, Alaska governor Sarah Palin addressed that incoming torpedo on the op-ed page of The Washington Post recently; she correctly labels "cap and tax" as a way to "kill responsible domestic energy production or clobber every American consumer with higher prices." And of course, to accelerate the wipeout of manufacturing in the Heartland.
So where could new jobs come from? President Obama's Council of Economic Advisers released a cheery report on future employment growth, suggesting that declines in the manufacturing sector should be counterbalanced by increases in the aerospace and pharmaceutical industries.
Oh really? What happens to the aerospace industry if Obama cuts back on defense spending, as he plans to do, including for the F-22 fighter jet? Consider this headline also from The Washington Post, "Obama Vows a Veto In Dispute Over F-22s/President Pushing to Close Production Line." Not too much hope there.
And what of health care? Not only is health care a desirable good in and of itself, but it is also a natural driver of economic activity, as anyone who lives near a hospital knows. There are millions of jobs to be found in medicine, from taking care of patients, to inventing cures, to mass-producing medical equipment.
But what if the Obamans succeed in cutting back on health care, in the name of "controlling costs"? In the eyes of liberal Democrats, the whole point of putting the government in charge of health care is so that planners in Washington will be able to "improve" the system--which, of course, means rationing of one kind or another. In an article summarizing the White House economic report, The Washington Post's David Cho might have been too polite to say the obvious--that Obamacare will constrict job growth in the health sector--and so he confines himself to simply noting, "The projections do not account for Obama's plan to revamp the U.S. health-care system." That is, if Obama gets his way on health care "reform," then rosy scenarios of health-care employment growth will fade to black.
OK, so let's see here: The first stimulus didn't work for anyone except a few favored constituencies. "Cap and tax," if it passes, will strangle the economy; and even if it doesn't pass, the continuing threat of anti-carbon dioxide activism--from litigators, state legislatures, and future Congresses--will cast a dark shadow over future economic activity. (Ask yourself: Would you build a factory in the same country as Carol Browner?) And the Obama administration is targeting two economic-driver industries, aerospace and health care, for drastic reductions.
Here's Zuckerman's conclusion:
"No wonder poll after poll shows a steady erosion of confidence in the stimulus. So what kind of second-act stimulus should we look for? Something that might have a real multiplier effect, not a congressional wish list of pet programs. It is critical that the Obama administration not play politics with the issue. The time to get ready for a serious infrastructure program is now. It's a shame Washington didn't get it right the first time."
Yes, indeed. America didn't get a New Deal with Barack Obama, it got a Bad Deal. But since few wish for a return to the Bush administration, the question is: What do we do next? What if we want American manufacturing to expand? What if we want a more robust aerospace industry? What if we want better medicine? What if we want "serious infrastructure," as Zuckerman puts it--the kind that creates economic growth?
Obama, in office till at least January 2013--and in charge of Congress till at least January 2011--will get at least one more chance to address these questions. If he succeeds, great. But if he fails, then he and his Teleprompter will have to get out of the way and let someone else do the real work of growing the economy.