Seamanship Quotation

“In political activity, then, men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting-place nor appointed destination.”
— from Michael Oakeshott's
Political Education” (1951)

Monday, June 13, 2011

Stability—Today’s big hairy idea

Listening to a vacuous speech on inflation and gasoline prices, a marketing specialist whispered: “He’s got it! The problem is high prices. The answer is low prices. Okay?”
These days, the closer the executive, the investor, the pundit, the congressman and the registered Republican in Wisconsin gets to making a decision the more the damnable uncertainty of the times bears down. Uncertainly is slowing us down.
Most conservatives generally don’t believe we can manage the climate. The weather is not a problem, like inflation or teenage pregnancy that can be altered by public policy. Yet, many politicians seem to believe that uncertainty isn’t an interesting life’s companion but another unnecessary problem—created by the other guy’s ideas and, most excitingly, something that can be swept away by “stability.”
Stephen Harper discovered that Canadians like the word “stable” and used it in the last election to advance a stark proposition: give me a majority and I’ll deliver. As an incumbent, however, he couldn’t use the word “stability” as the solution—a wand to vanquish uncertainty and its foolish proponents in Canada and in Washington. That kind of magic is reserved for the stump speeches of presidential candidates.
Tim Pawlenty doesn’t have the voice or the girth of a demagogue and may not have the staying power to say what he’s saying now for another fifteen months. However, his economic message boils down to a child’s prayer: without Washington, America can grow by five percent annually—for ten years. If we strip Washington of the money necessary to play an active role in society, America will be stable and will grow like it did so beautifully, so briefly, in the early 1950s.
He echoes a school of political economy that believes in the boundless creative power of markets and the boundless negative power of the state. Market failures aren’t solved by government, they’re authored by government; government—not this crazy world—makes us uncertain and irresolute.
Today’s facts, glaringly, say otherwise.
High unemployment and stagnant middle-class incomes aren’t persisting because the cost of government is rising or because American capitalists are timid. American taxpayers are getting back, in services and support, 40% more from big government than they’re paying for. And big business is booming. America is once again the 2nd biggest export manufacturer in the world. The Dow has risen 85% since the Great Recession. In May, employment growth was disappointing. Nevertheless, there were also 18 major IPOs, the best month this year.
Most Americans aren’t happy with their economic circumstances and are uncertain about the future. However, it is ridiculous to suggest that business is waiting on its hands for another round of massive Republican spending and tax cuts or that the middle-class is paralyzed by worry that Obama may ask the rich to pay more in 2013.
As was not the case during the Dirty Thirties, there is now a wide consensus that favors private enterprise and free markets. However, stability isn’t sitting on a shelf like some kind of food additive waiting to be released on America.
Business would like the good stuff to stay the same and problems retreat on their own. Who doesn’t? The political market, like the private market, however, works for the best when it solves problems rather than bemoans uncertain times.   

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