Free Markets, Free People

Barack Obama

How many times do we have to tell you…

… that was then, this is now!

President Obama, to The New York Times, March 6, 2009, on how he’s not a socialist:

[I]t wasn’t on my watch that we passed a massive new entitlement… without a source of funding.

No sir. That wouldn’t be “entirely consistent with free-market principles.”

So I’m sure Pres. Obama will come up with something better than (a.) letting the Bush tax cuts expire and (b.) ending the Iraq War as a means of funding his massive new entitlement.  Because those things won’t even handle the existing structural deficit, much less a new program.

Obama and the Economy: Incompetence, Disinterest, or Something Else?

Over the past several weeks we’ve been pondering Pres. Obama’s handling of the economic crisis. For the most part we’ve all agreed that Obama’s lack of leadership (whether from a dearth of experience or ability) is only serving to exacerbate the situation. But we also have somewhat divergent views as to whether there is a method to Obama’s madness.

Bruce is pretty convinced that the problem is a lack of executive experience, and the fact that Obama is learning on the job, while in the one government position that simply won’t allow for that sort of training. Being devoid of leadership skills or abilities, and being overly confident in his abilities to talk his way out of trouble, is driving Obama into mistake after mistake. Call this the Boy-King scenario.

Dale has suggested that Obama is simply disinterested in things like foreign and economic policy, thus he’s put little effort into guiding those efforts, and instead has handed these messy areas off to subordinates. That those on whom he is depending are not terribly proficient is not helping matters (e.g. Hillary and the “reset” button). But at bottom, the real problem with Obama is that his only real concern is with implementing his social agenda. This is bascially the Louis XVI problem (the King who famously recorded “Rien” as the sole entry to his July 14, 1789 diary, referring to his hunting exploits that day).

Last night on the podcast, I ventured that, in addition to a lack of experience and a disinterest in anything other than social policy, Obama is perfectly happy to let the economy flounder because (he thinks) it will drive more people into the arms of government dependency, and allow him to push forward with the radical transformation he envisions for this country. What he wants most, in my opinion, is to greatly expand the desire and need for government, to instill “democratic” controls into as many areas of life as possible (and especially in economic affairs), and to revise what he sees as a top-down power structure into a bottom-up one. Regardless of whether Obama is right or wrong in any of his thinking, it seems to me that his apparent lack of concern with respect to the economic crisis (only one of seventeen post filled in Treasury, despite the frightening prospects of a new depression?) has more to do with the fact that he does not envision the crisis interfering with his social agenda, and perhaps sees it as an enabler of that agenda. Call this the Commodus explanation.

I’m loathe to suggest that Obama is some sort of Manchurian Candidate, aiming to secretly impose socialism on the US, primarily because we’ve been teetering on that edge for several decades now, and he’s not been shy about wanting to give the final nudge. At the same time, I believe that Obama truly wants what’s best for this country. It’s just that what he views as “best” is something similar to European social-democracy, to which I am absolutely opposed.

So, I’m curious. How do you all see it? Is Obama the Boy-King, Louis XVI, or Commodus? Some combination of the three? Something different altogether?

Podcast for 22 Mar 09

In this podcast, Bruce, Michael and Dale talk about the AIG bonus Fiasco, limiting executive pay,  and the public’s tolerance for President Obama.

The direct link to the podcast can be found here.

Observations

The intro and outro music is Vena Cava by 50 Foot Wave, and is available for free download here.

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 to 2007, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.

Intellectually Incurious

Yesterday on the podcast, we talked about Pres. Obama’s attitude towards certain aspects of his presidential responsibilities.  Apropos of that discussion, he is receiving some criticism for his indifference to the markets.

Some Wall Street economists think President Obama could have voiced some sympathy about the plight of frightened shareholders when he compared the stock market’s plunge to an election tracking poll that “bobs up and down, day to day.”

They worry that the president is underestimating the important role the stock market plays in the economy’s performance, and that the markets’ precipitous slide is actually a vote of no confidence in the administration’s handling of the economy. There’s also a suspicion that Mr. Obama and his advisers think only wealthy people own stocks.

“There is some of that feeling that rich people are the ones who have stocks. He does have somewhat of that feeling. But you’ve got to remember that most people who own stocks aren’t rich,” said David Wyss, chief economist at Standard & Poor’s, the influential Wall Street financial research and forecasting firm…

…Mr. Wyss and some of his colleagues on Wall Street – where investors have lost trillions of dollars in savings and the market is not so much bobbing as dropping straight down – think Mr. Obama could have shown more concern for the markets, which represent the economy and signal its future direction.

During Mr. Bush’s tenure, there was constant criticism that he was “intellectually incurious”, e.g., he showed a lack of interest in the portions of his job he wasn’t required to be engaged in on a regular basis.  I wouldn’t dispute those criticisms, of course, but it seems to be a trait that Pres. Obama shares with his predecessor.

Pres. Obama appears to be fascinated by aspects of politics such as “green jobs” and health care that aren’t actually part of the president’s core portfolio, while being uninterested in the foreign and military policies that are essential parts of the president’s purview.At the moment, we’re in the midst of an economic crisis–and I use the word intentionally–that stems from a credit bubble collapse.  The stock market is a predictor of future earnings and profitability for private sector firms.  As such, it tells you things about the expectations investors (which at this point includes more than half of the population) have about the future income that their investments will produce.  What the collapse in the stock market tells us is that investors are voting with their money that future earnings will be substantially lower, meaning that firms all across the country will be less profitable.

What happens on a day-to-day basis, of course, may be subject to a variety of market whims and fancies, but long-term trends do indicate the direction of the economy.  The market is a leading indicator.  So when there are several straight weeks of decline in stock prices, the market is telling us something.

This seems not to be a reality that the president comprehends.

Instead, the president’s main focus seems to be on health care, green jobs, more policemen and prosecutors, and the like.  All of which may be wonderful things, and none of which will happen if the economy implodes. To the extent the current crisis forces him to concentrate on economic policy, he appears to resent it.

Similarly, the president has made missteps in foreign policy this week.  The Obama Administration apparently attempted to sell our Eastern European allies down the river by offering to shut them out of missile defense if the Russians cooperate on nuclear non-proliferation in Iran–until they got caught out on it.  That was a  major misstep.It was quickly followed by two minor missteps.

First was Sec. Clinton presenting the Russian foreign minister with a button which was supposed to say, in Russian, “Reset”, to symbolize the new engagement with the world the Obama Administration was supposed to bring about.  What the button actually said was “overcharge” in Russian.  On top of this, it’s generally a bad idea, symbolically, to present the Russians with a button to push of any sort, considering that the major foreign policy goal of the last half of the 20th century was to prevent the Russians from pushing “the button”.

Second was the treatment of Gordon Brown, the prime minister of the UK, during his visit.  Rather than pulling out all the stops to showcase the visit of the head of government of what, by nearly any measure, is the United States’ most important ally, Mr. Obama treated it as if the Deputy Agriculture Minister of Azerbaijan had showed up on the White House’s doorstep.  In what may be a first in my lifetime, the various press organs in Britain, from the commies at The Spectator Observer, to the staid tories of The Times of London all agreed that Pres. Obama’s treatment of Mr. Brown amounted to an egregious snub of the United Kingdom.

In addition to the above, one has to note the retention of Sec. gates at the DoD, along with the retention of the great majority of the Bush Administration’s positions on executive privilege and the prosecution of the Global War on Terror.

What all of these things add up to is a picture of a president who is essentially uninterested in military policy, or foreign policy, or, really, economic policy, and who in effect simply ignores them to the extent he is able, and delegates their operation to his subordinates.  What he cares about is government, and its ability to intervene in the marketplace, and to provide goods and services.  It is in those areas where his interest and attention actually lie, and the remainder of the executive branch can, as far as he’s concerned, operate on auto-pilot.

Take all of the above together, and it appears to present an emerging picture of a man who is truly intellectually incurious, and who wishes to ignore, to the extent possible, those aspects of the president’s job that he doesn’t find personally appealing.

Sadly, he appears to be fascinated by aspects of politics such as “green jobs” and health care that aren’t actually part of the president’s core portfolio, while being uninterested in the foreign and military policies that are essential parts of the president’s purview.

Buyer’s Remorse? Have Obamacons Been Obamaconned?

I‘ve spoken before about the political brilliance that running on nebulous catch phrases can accrue for the politician. Lay them out there, let the voting public decide what they mean to each of them and then ride the wave to elected office.

Obama did precisely that. And many who are marginally on the right, were fooled by that. Those who voted for him projected their “hope” for “change” on the blank screen he provided. But, as you’ll see in this example, the reality of who Barack Obama really is may be clearing up, and it appears it is a huge disappointment to many of his more conservative/libertarian supporters.

Silicon Valley, where I live, is home to both political liberals and conservatives–more liberals of late, but not by a huge margin. The lopsidedness occurs on the freedom-statist divide. An overwhelming majority of Valley residents would place themselves on the freedom side and against the state. This should not surprise anyone. Silicon Valley is a land of immigrants, both foreign and from other American states. What draws people to Silicon Valley is the freedom to go out and commit industrial revolution and make the future.

Thus it was always odd that Silicon Valley voted for the most statist-inclined presidential candidate since FDR. Silicon Valley fell in love with Barack Obama. His youth and multicultural cool, along with the Web superiority of his presidential campaign, had Silicon Valley going googly for Obama.

In the eyes of Silicon Valley, Obama was like the Apple Macintosh. John McCain was like Windows.

Now comes the reckoning. Obama may be the coolest guy ever to hold the office of U.S. president. He may be the personification of an Apple Mac, iPod and iPhone. But this week Obama proved he is a big-state liberal, through and through.

My Silicon Valley friends who supported Obama are weirdly silent about this. I suspect they are in denial, still hoping for the closet libertarian Obama to emerge. Throughout the 2008 campaign, Silicon Valley Obama voters would tell me that Obama was really an economic centrist. Forget his liberal Senate record and Saul Alinsky-conditioned career as a community organizer. Forget the Chicago-style thug politics. That was in the past. Obama did what he had to do to rise. Once in the Oval Office, Obama will really govern more like John F. Kennedy, Bill Clinton or Tony Blair.

Say it enough times, and you can almost believe it. Well, sorry about that, you Obamacons. You just got thrown under the bus.

The $790 billion stimulus headed for Obama’s desk is statist. It is also backward looking. Sure, there are some forward-looking initiatives, such as a few billion for broadband. But the bill is overwhelmed by “shovel-ready” projects aimed at school building improvement, road repair and so forth, and by bailouts to profligate state governments.

Very disturbingly, the bill has the stench of protectionism in it. This is antithetical to the interests of trade-happy Silicon Valley.

What is becoming clear is the Obama we can expect to govern is the big government statist liberal and not a “closet libertarian” as they hoped. Note the word. They fooled themselves into thinking that was actually a possibility. Yet as I pointed out below, this huge and unfocused spending plan being touted as a “stimulus” is nothing more than a massive expansion of government. It is also just the prelude for further intrusion, essentially a down-payment which paves the way for massive intrusion in health care and the energy sector.

For those who cast a jaundiced eye on the candidate and his blank slate campaign, none of this comes as a surprise. A creature of the most liberal political machines in America, a student of Saul Alinski’s method and someone who consistently saw government as the answer and not the problem during his political rise, the Barack Obama the folks are suddenly discovering in Silicon Valley and other parts of America is precisely the guy we expected.

His “youth and multicultural cool” may have been part of sales job, but now it comes down to performance. Thus far his performance has been directed at expanding government. Two of the first three bills passed in his administration have massively increased government. And as I’ve noted, he promises even more.

In less than a month, Obama has signaled that there isn’t a libertarian leaning bone in his body. The question remains as to how people, like those in Silicon Valley, managed to fool themselves enough to vote for a candidate who so obviously didn’t fit their “hope”. And are they, as this particular piece seems to indicate, feeling a little buyer’s remorse?

~McQ

Don’t Worry Julio!

Julio works at Mickey D’s and has for the last 4 years. President Obama tells him not to worry, that upcoming legislation is going to cover him up with money he didn’t earn (“refundable tax credits”) and help pay for his college too!

Watch this performance – on both sides:

Maybe that car and mortgage payment aren’t such a wild thought after all.

But as Walter Williams reminds us:

“In stimulus package language, if Congress taxes to hand out money, one person is stimulated at the expense of another, who pays the tax and is unstimulated. A visual representation of the stimulus package is: Imagine you see a person at work taking buckets of water from the deep end of a swimming pool and dumping them into the shallow end in an attempt to make it deeper. You would deem him stupid. That scenario is equivalent to what Congress and the new President proposes for the economy.”

Welcome to the deep end. You’re going to be putting Julio through college. Do you think he’ll even send you a thank you note?

~McQ