The Obama economy
As the Dow keeps dropping, the president is running out of people to blame.
As 2009 opened, three weeks before Barack Obama took office, the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at 9034 on January 2, its highest level since the autumn panic. Yesterday the Dow fell another 4.24% to 6763, for an overall decline of 25% in two months and to its lowest level since 1997. The dismaying message here is that President Obama's policies have become part of the economy's problem.
From punishing business to squandering scarce national public resources, Team Obama is creating more uncertainty and less confidence -- and thus a longer period of recession or subpar growth.
Already 15 months old, the current recession will soon match the average length -- and average job loss -- of the last three postwar downturns. What goes down will come up -- unless destructive policies interfere with the sources of potential recovery.
And those sources have been forming for some time. The price of oil and other commodities have fallen by two-thirds since their 2008 summer peak, which has the effect of a major tax cut. The world is awash in liquidity, thanks to monetary ease by the Federal Reserve and other central banks. Monetary policy operates with a lag, but last year's easing will eventually stir economic activity.
But one negative revelation has been the way he has chosen to spend his scarce resources on income transfers rather than growth promotion. Most of his "stimulus" spending was devoted to social programs, rather than public works, and nearly all of the tax cuts were devoted to income maintenance rather than to improving incentives to work or invest.
His Treasury has been making a similar mistake with its financial bailout plans. The banking system needs to work through its losses, and one necessary use of public capital is to assist in burning down those bad assets as fast as possible. Yet most of Team Obama's ministrations so far have gone toward triage and life support, rather than repair and recovery.
On taxes and the so-called 'budget', which the Obamanians call a 'spending bill':
The market has notably plunged since Mr. Obama introduced his budget last week, and that should be no surprise. The document was a declaration of hostility toward capitalists across the economy. Health-care stocks have dived on fears of new government mandates and price controls. Private lenders to students have been told they're no longer wanted. Anyone who uses carbon energy has been warned to expect a huge tax increase from cap and trade. And every risk-taker and investor now knows that another tax increase will slam the economy in 2011, unless Mr. Obama lets Speaker Nancy Pelosi impose one even earlier.
Then we have the John Galt Phenomenon:
The powers in Congress -- unrebuked by Mr. Obama -- are ridiculing and punishing the very capitalists who are essential to a sustainable recovery. The result has been a capital strike, and the return of the fear from last year that we could face a far deeper downturn. This is no way to nurture a wounded economy back to health.
The president and his entourage really need to spend less time bullying the people who are going to recover this economy, and less time getting into playground snotfests with Republican commentators (Press Secretary Gibbs borders on the childish these days), and less time worrying about helping the Palestinians with their 'budget shortfalls', and less time blaming America for Mexico's gun problems (Mexico has some of the strictest anti-gun laws in the world; an honest Mexican citizen cannot purchase a gun to defend himself against hordes of drug cartel thugs). They could probably spend some time learning how to use TaxCut, and once they have done that, they may have some understanding of economics beyond the typical community college freshman level.