FRONT PAGE CONTRIBUTOR
Stimulating the Leviathan State
So here we are, five years into Obama’s trillion-dollar “stimulus” program, and the only thing that got “stimulated” was the Leviathan State. I mean that fairly literally, since as Michelle Malkin reminds us, a good 75 percent of the “shovel-ready” jobs created by stimulus spending were government jobs:
In 2012, Ohio State University economics professor Bill Dupor reported that more than three-quarters of the jobs created or saved by the stimulus were government jobs. Dupor and another colleague also concluded that the massive wealth redistribution scheme “destroyed/forestalled roughly one million private sector jobs” by siphoning tax dollars “to offset state revenue shortfalls and Medicaid increases rather than boost private sector employment.”
In 2011, at a rare meeting of his Jobs and Competitiveness Council, Obama turned his shovel-ready vow into a punchline: “Shovel-ready was not as, uh, shovel-ready as we expected,” he cracked with a sheepish grin. The dog-and-pony Jobs Council, led by GE’s Jeffrey Immelt, giggled and cackled at Obama’s snark.
More forgotten insult to grievous injury: the telling moment when New York Times columnist David Brooks giggled on Jim Lehrer’s PBS show that Obama had told him off the record in 2009 that the shovel-ready promise was a crock, but that he sat on the truth until the Times’ Peter Baker reported the admission more than a year later in October 2010.
Fortunately for President Obama, the press largely agrees that the Ruling Class should be allowed to giggle, cackle, and discuss its agenda in private, without any troubling reports reaching restless tax serfs. Obama’s “shovel-ready” language flows from a mindset that considers political battles far more important than private-sector reality. Once government spends “job-creating stimulus” money, the story is over; all those grubby little details about how few jobs were actually created, and a ton of the stimulus money just plain disappeared, are footnote material.
So the stimulus was Leviathan making a meal of its own tail. Borrowed and printed money was used to reinforce the Army of Debt, the great host of government employees who reliably support even bigger government, and can be used as human shields whenever some reformer talks about fiscal restraint. We can’t slow the rate of government growth, much less make it smaller, because that would put thousands of well-compensated government employees out of work, increasing the unemployment rate. You may rest comfortably assured the media would make a huge deal about the rising unemployment rate (“REPUBLICAN SPENDING CUTS DERAIL OBAMA RECOVERY!!!”) accompanied by very low whispers about how the old unemployment rate was actually even worse than you thought it was, if you don’t count all the government workers hired with imaginary money.
Stimulus spending also pushed up government spending baselines, giving the Big Government crowd even more room to howl in agony about “savage cuts” if anyone tries to slow down the debt-fueled gravy train. And yes, those stimulus government jobs did indeed kill healthy private sector jobs. Leviathan is a fat and lazy predator, devouring us as we carry it, then lecturing us for our impertinence when we complain about the weight our half-eaten private sector is expected to carry.
It must give the Left great satisfaction to observe the muted public grumbling about the great stimulus heist. Sure, we’ve had a few headline bursts about lavish GSA parties and loopy examples of drunken-sailor excess from our federal and state spendthrifts. (I always feel obliged to apologize to actual drunken sailors when I use that phrase with respect to government spending, because tipsy mariners on shore leave are throwing their own money away.)
Obama’s persistent efforts to claim he needs even more money for “infrastructure” prompt many raised eyebrows from those who wonder what happened to the last trillion he appropriated for that purpose. If you are the owner of such a raised eyebrow, the Wall Street Journal notes that Obama only spent about 10 percent of what he promised on “infrastructure” during the stimulus ripoff.
The public is uneasy about the permanent Obama malaise. We’ve reached the point where workforce collapse can no longer be hidden. Of course, we reached it after the 2012 election was safely over, but at least we’re no longer inundated with those unbelievably stupid headlines hailing Obama “triumphs” that ticked the unemployment rate down by a tenth of a percent by booting 300,000 more people out of the workforce entirely. A certain amount of patience from voters was exhausted after they re-elected this President; his continuing effort to pretend he arrived in Washington yesterday is like fingernails on a blackboard, one year into his second term.
But none of this has gelled into a great public outcry. They’ve pretty much forgotten about the stimulus. Few of them realize just how huge this ripoff was. The original proposal was for $600 billion; light-fingered Democrats sweetened that to $800 billion when they controlled Congress; as usual, everyone spent far more money than they promised, so the total price tag is close to $2 trillion. Two trillion dollars. Gone without a trace, memorialized only by Obama making a couple of “whoops, my bad” jokes when he thought no taxpayers were listening. And the worst description that could be applied to the general public response is “mild annoyance,” or maybe “disappointment.” There is no outrage, and that’s music to the ears of Obama and his “transform America” crew. They got away with it.
One other negative effect of the stimulus is that it made the window of possibility much smaller for those who love their freedom. Two trillion dollars up in smoke means every good idea will be instantly shot down as “too expensive,” a luxury our bankrupt nation cannot afford. Think of everything we could have had, for two trillion dollars! That might have paid for the transition to a Flat Tax or Fair Tax system. It could have financed powerful pro-growth tax cuts. But no, it went swirling into rat holes, padded government payrolls, and got laundered into Democrat Party campaign cash. Any proposal to increase the size and power of the private sector will now be treated as a gold-plated luxury we cannot “afford.”
Government debt is a black hole, serving the interests of statists by bending the horizons of freedom. You’ll notice we’re nowhere near the Ruling Class putting the brakes on its big-spending agenda because the government is broke. On the contrary, the insolvency of the State becomes a weapon in its arsenal against us. The people who pay the bills are told they must surrender even more of their freedom, because the government has been spending 30 or 40 percent more than what they agreed to give it. The joblessness and poverty spread by Leviathan’s consumption of our private-sector wealth becomes leverage for more social welfare spending. Going bankrupt isn’t just a side effect of left-wing fecklessness, although there are a lot of neo-Keynesian “economists” who should spend the rest of their lives wiping egg from their faces. Debt is a goal unto itself, because a nation that believes it can’t function without trillion-dollar deficits and gigantic “stimulus” programs is much easier to control. The most striking feature of post-Obama Stimulus America is that so much less is possible now.