Free Markets, Free People
Mort Zuckerman, a former Obama supporter, has again gone after the President’s economic policies as the primary source of the economic non-recovery. In a long opinion piece, Zuckerman spells out the exceptionalism of American business through our history and why it has been able to weather financial storms of the past and come out in much better shape than other countries.
The ‘storm’ metaphor is apt, since Zuckerman likens the Obama policies to “our economic Katrina”. Not the economic problem itself, but the administration and Democratic Congress’s answer to the problem. Here’s his summation:
The unique danger today is the possibility that we may face longer-term stagnation as a consequence of relying too heavily on borrowed money. When the housing and credit bubbles burst in 2007 and 2008, the unemployment rate soared to double digits and caused a cascade of shock throughout the credit markets and the banking system. Washington’s ability to initiate a resurgence is now limited by the long-term dangers of our deficits and our debts.
But one unfortunate pattern that has emerged in the last 18 months is to lay all the blame for our difficulties only on the business community and the financial world. This quite ignores the role of Congress in many areas, but most glaringly in forcing Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the Federal Housing Administration to back loans to people who could not afford them. And not to mention the role of the Securities and Exchange Commission, which in 2004 sanctioned higher levels of leverage for financial firms, from 12 times equity to over 30 times equity.
This predilection to blame business is manifest in the unnecessary and provocative anti-business sentiment revealed by President Obama in a recent speech that was supposed to be seeking the support of the business community for a doubling of exports over the next five years. "In the absence of sound oversight," he said, "responsible businesses are forced to compete against unscrupulous and underhanded businesses, who are unencumbered by any restrictions on activities that might harm the environment, or take advantage of middle-class families, or threaten to bring down the entire financial system." This kind of gratuitous and overstated demonization of business is exactly the wrong approach. It ignores the disappointment of a stimulus program that was ill-designed to produce the jobs the president promised—that famous 8 percent unemployment ceiling.
But it’s not just the rhetoric that undermines the confidence the business community needs to find if it is to invest. Consider the new generation of regulatory rules, increased bureaucracy, and higher taxes created by the Obama administration. For example, the new financial regulation bill includes nearly 500 "rule-makings," studies, and reports, compared with just 14 in total for the controversial Sarbanes-Oxley bill, passed after the financial scandals of Enron and WorldCom. The disillusionment has spread to the Business Roundtable, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), which represents small businesses that normally account for roughly 60 percent of job creation.
The chief economist of the NFIB, William Dunkelberg, put it clearly: Small business owners "do not trust the economic policies in place or proposed." He also said, "The U.S. economy faces hurricane force headwinds and the government is at the center of the storm, making an economic recovery very difficult."
Our economic Katrina, in short.
Note that even Zuckerman recognizes the government role in the economic turmoil that was generated in late 2008, but also notes that they simply have ignored the government role in favor of blaming business. Half a trillion dollars have been quietly pumped into Freddie and Fannie and both have been delisted from the stock exchange so investors can no longer monitor them.
Instead the focus has been on blaming the private sector and clamping down on perceived problems with hundreds if not thousands of new regulations. The regulations, of course, will put a new, onerous and costly burden on the business community even while it is that community which is critical to recovery and employment.
In fact, it seems that the administration and Congressional Democrats talk out of one side of their mouths about how jobs are their number one focus (actually unemployment benefits seem to constitute the entirety of the focus) while out of the other side they talk about how “Wall Street and the banks” are the prime villains in our economic woes.
In that atmosphere, as unsettled as any category 5 hurricane can accomplish, business is battening down the hatches, moving everything inside and abandoning the marketplace until the instability subsides and a more pro-business administration is in place.
Instead of doing what it can to settle the market place and put policies in place that encourage and provide incentive to businesses to expand and hire, this Congress and administration continue to wage war on the private economic engine of the country.
And the results remain plain for anyone with a pair of eyes to see. Stagnation, no growth, high unemployment and the real possibility of a double dip recession. All to purse the “progressive” anti-business agenda and gain more control over the private economy. Clearly they simply refuse to let this crisis go to waste, and have chosen to further cripple our ability to recover instead of aiding and abetting it.
Ben White at Politico tells us:
Obama has been happy to be seen by voters as cracking down on Wall Street but those efforts have had an unintended result: feeding a sense that the president and his party are indifferent or even actively hostile toward big business, whether those businesses are Silicon Valley tech companies, Midwestern manufacturers or Main Street small businesses.
And it is more than just politics: Obama’s aides believe confidence in the general direction of White House policy has an effect on the willingness of corporations to hire, invest and push the economy toward a more solid recovery.
We’ve all heard about the $1.8 trillion that companies and corporations have saved while they sit on the side-lines refusing to invest or hire. We’ve seen the likes of Mort Zuckerman declare that the policies and attitude of the administration are decidedly "anti-business". And we’ve seen little or no evidence that anything the government has done has, in fact, spurred economic recovery.
So – what’s the administration’s answer? A public relations campaign where they essentially tell us things have happened we know haven’t, take credit for things they had little to do with and essentially try to spin their way out of the "anti-business" label.
Or, “business as usual”:
So the White House has launched a campaign to help instill that confidence, highlighted by Obama’s remarks on Wednesday stressing his commitment to lifting trade barriers as a way to spur economic growth. That was followed by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s interview on CNBC’s “Kudlow Report” last night — following his spot on PBS’ “NewsHour” on Tuesday. Obama talked up the economy in Missouri Thursday as well.
In a Thursday interview, White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel argued that rather than recoiling against Obama, business leaders should be grateful for his support on at least a half-dozen counts: his advocacy of greater international trade and education reform open markets despite union skepticism; his rejection of calls from some quarters to nationalize banks during the financial meltdown; the rescue of the automobile industry; the fact that the overhaul of health care preserved the private delivery system; the fact that billions in the stimulus package benefited business with lucrative new contracts, and that financial regulation reform will take away the uncertainty that existed with a broken, pre-crash regulatory apparatus.
But you see, businesses know all of that and they aren’t “grateful”, they’re alarmed. Not only that, they don’t see private banks and financial institutions as the sole problem in the financial meltdown – but they do see government trying to pretend it was all Wall Street and greedy corporations, while Freddie and Fannie have become half a trillion dollar financial sink holes that politicians don’t want to talk about.
They also understand that the Bush tax cuts are expiring, new health care laws and taxes are pending, new and onerous regulations are in the offing and the lame duck Congress will most likely try to push through some version of cap-and-trade. Add to that failing states like Illinois and California and the probability of higher taxes all the way around.
And then there’s the possibility of a double-dip recession.
Why wouldn’t business be sitting on their money given the “rest of the story” that the administration conveniently leaves out of their pitch?
This is a crew that has supreme confidence in their ability to propagandize anything and get away with it. And why shouldn’t they – look who is sitting in the White House. You’d have to believe if you can sell an empty suit to a majority of the nation, you can probably sell anything.