Thursday, January 28, 2010

On the President's Speech

© 2010 Joshua Stark

Sometimes, a person just has to step back and explain a concept that may be basic to a particular field of study, but which is not generally understood by the general public, mostly because they don't need/want to take a moment to think about it. That's alright, and my barking up this tree probably further explains the lack of regular commentary here at Ethics & the Environment. Perhaps I should, instead, use Field & Stream's latest attempt to drum up internet readership (NorCal Cazadora explains).
Last night, I listened to the President's State of the Union speech, and he uttered the one phrase that drives the economist in me so completely batty that it usually leaves me sputtering, gesturing at the medium (the radio in this case), and getting all crazy-eyed, lip-pursed, and white-knuckled.

He said that the federal government needs to rein in spending during these tough economic times because, because, that's what a family does.

It drives me batty; so batty, in fact, that I'm taking a bit of space out of my blog to explain just how ridiculous that claim is.

The short version: Is a family's spending responsible for the safety of our Nation? Is it responsible for the Nation's financial stability? Can it move literally hundreds of billions of dollars in just a few weeks or months? Can it make trade agreements? Can it order the printing of additional money, or determine the interest rates it is going to pay? I could go on and on.

The longer version (but still short): This oversimplification of our Nation's responsibilities dumbs down the conversation about government to a simple, and overly economic, look at our country. It pretends that the Nation just goes out and buys Tide with Bleach normally, but should settle for the generic brand right now. You know, just in case it loses its job.

Meanwhile, many people are investing. Because, in addition to it being a stupid analogy, it isn't even necessarily good advice for families to behave that way during bad economic times. Individual decisions need to be based on microeconomic factors. For example, should gun stores have been stocking up on ammunition and guns in late 2007 & early 2008? Yes, because they sold a lot of guns and ammunition in 2008-2009. Safe manufacturers, seeing the slide in the economy, should have put in more orders early on, too. More generally, what happened to the adage: Buy low, sell high?

Which brings me to my last point: If a family had as much spending power and clout as the US Government, it sure as heck wouldn't be tightening its belt right now; it would be buying up all kinds of businesses, and proudly crowing about it at the golf course. In a few years, it would rake in even more money.

Does this mean I believe the feds should buy up every company? No, it means I think the analogy is stupid. It caters to a feeling rather than an understanding, and it leads to bad decisions.

I would also like to point out two things: We are at War, and the President needs to speak to this issue first and foremost, until we are out of War. It always disgusts me when the President (and the current one and the previous one were both very, very bad at this) talks about the economy first. The economy is tough, yes (believe me, I know it), but it is not tougher than ordering young men and women to kill and die for you. Even if you pretend it is.

Second, I only caught one little blip about the environment, and it was only about climate change. Nothing on other protections, nothing about ag., nothing about water or air quality. Just a little blip on climate change, that he wants something done.

I always worry when an administration says that they want just something done, because from the efforts of our current governor, who knows what that will be?

So please, Mr. President, do some serious economic re-thinking. And make the War first every time, before every speech, because every day, your young soldiers kill and die for you, by your orders.

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