When President Obama isn’t criticizing his fellow Democrats for their laziness and backsliding, he’s spouting off his favorite analogy about the economy. Back in May, His Petulancy said this, “After they drove the car into the ditch, made it as difficult as possible for us to pull it back, now they want to keys back. No! You can’t drive. We don’t want to have to go back into the ditch. We just got the car out.” Jake Tapper quoting Obama 5/13/2010 on ABC’s Political Punch. This metaphor got him some laughs, some mileage, some attention. So, like any bad comedian who has fell upon a joke, he’s expanded upon his initial comment. “We’re down there. It’s hot. We were sweating. Bugs everywhere. We’re down there pushing, pushing, pushing on the car. Every once in a while we’d look up and see the Republicans standing there. They’re just standing there fanning themselves — sipping on a Slurpee.” Now, this is becoming part of their political narrative. They are actually beginning to believe this idiotic analogy has legs. The U.S. economy is a car, the Republicans were driving that car, the economy, they drove into a ditch, a recession, and the Democrats were working hard to get that car, the economy, out of the ditch, the recession, and Republicans didn’t do anything to help so we shouldn’t vote for them.
Let’s take apart this absurdity and the Democrats’ blind faith that the analogy will hold and gain them some leverage.
First of all, is the economy like a car? Well, no, not really. Not unless the carbon, iron, oxygen, and nitrogen atoms in the car are like 300 million people making economic decisions based on their own perceptions of the other people’s economic decisions. I went out to my garage and attempted to ask the steering wheel if it believed the tailpipe was going to invest in gold or municipal bonds for tax purposes. The steering wheel was strangely silent on the matter. So, I asked the backseat if it thought going to school for a certification that would lead to a raise was an option. The backseat was mute on the subject.
Collectivists, on the other hand, love this analogy. They think of the economy as an artificial construct that society created and has static, controllable features, like a car. They think the media is the radio and the gas tank is like the Federal Reserve and the brakes are like limits on governmental spending. The gas in the gas tank is just money that comes flowing from a gas station without any refinement, travel, or fuss. They honestly believe the growing, contracting, hopeful, dismayed, and jubilant decisions made on a daily basis by everyday Americans are somehow immutable and fixed. These decisions only need tinkering to make the economy run better and only forward, of course.
The economy is more like the natural world around us than a car. A car is fixed in time and space with finite dimensions. The economy is future activities, investments, work, inventions, obsolescence, growth, death, past experiments, learning, forgetting, and promise. It is not fixed in time and space but in the daily machinations of 300 million brains that make decisions which impact their neighbors near and far. Every time we do something in the world, it has an impact on others, which leads to the car driver part of the analogy.
There is no one person or entity driving the economy. The president doesn’t have that much power. The political process does not have that much influence. The economy, like the natural world, reacts to their behavior but certainly not like a singular entity driving a car. But, that doesn’t compute with the collectivist narrative.
Political movements are collective souls that can direct resources and efforts in a singular direction, much like a driver of a car. Collectivists honestly believe that Republican policies drove the economy into a tailspin, but they couldn’t have. There was no singular manipulative omniscience that could guide the ‘driver’ into a certain direction.
A political movement is more like an experienced gardener that hopes by pruning back the grapevines, they will bear more fruit in the future. They are more like landscapers that hope by laying down some netting, the tulip bulbs they planted will be safe. But, they are all just hopes and attempts at shaping the natural world and not specific, deliberate directions of it. Plants don’t grow because someone wants them to, they grow because of their genetic structure and the environment around them. Political movements may pull up ‘weeds’ because they believe such things take away from the plants they intend to flourish. But, like economic problems, the weeds always return.
Finally the proverbial ditch, the recession, that we find ourselves in is most clearly not a good analogy. Economic downturns occur because economic gambles and excesses begin manifesting themselves. The American economic system realizes that housing is just too expensive for them. They stop buying so the market begins to turn. Housing prices, artificially elevated due to governmental overextending credit, begin to sink. Those houses bought with an eye on continued growth are suddenly not good deals. People, individuals, bought property for more than the market could bear. So, their equity shrank, their attitude toward money changed, and they stopped buying things. That caused an economic downturn.
There is no ditch. There are no bugs. There is no one drinking a Slurpee while the Democrats try to dig a mythical car out of a fictional ditch. There are no magic keys to the economy. There is no collective driver.
But, the Democratic Machine, in between whining at their base and insulting the rest of the American people, are bound and determined to make this ridiculous analogy their own. The economic experiments they’ve tried have failed miserably. When the best and brightest come out and say the recession ended before the stimulus did, they were probably right. It was the left wing policies of moving too much money from one sector to another, the bailing out of the government class, the hijacking of the healthcare system, the strangulation of the financial sector, and the impending threats of Crap and Tax and Card Check that are weighing down growth. Instead of pulling anything out of a proverbial ditch, they’ve simply drove people out of the garden. Instead of planting seeds and pulling weeds, the American public is watching with fear as their government makes them the enemy.
And that analogy holds true.