Friday, October 30, 2009


Peggy Noonan has written more offensive columns, and more ridiculous columns, but I don't think she's ever written a dumber column than this one:

The new economic statistics put growth at a healthy 3.5% for the third quarter. We should be dancing in the streets. No one is, because no one has any faith in these numbers. Waves of money are sloshing through the system, creating a false rising tide that lifts all boats for the moment.

So wait -- all of our boats are being lifted? Or they aren't? So we're not dancing in the streets because they are rising, in a false way, or because the rise is not a rise?

Really, Peggy, it's much simpler: some boats are being lifted. A lot of us understand that. A lot of us know that GDP goes up but conditions don't getter better right away, especially in the area of employment. It's called "Economics 101."

... The biggest threat to America right now is not government spending, huge deficits, foreign ownership of our debt, world terrorism, two wars, potential epidemics or nuts with nukes. The biggest long-term threat is that people are becoming and have become disheartened, that this condition is reaching critical mass, and that it afflicts most broadly and deeply those members of the American leadership class who are not in Washington, most especially those in business.

Um, no. Even this lefty doesn't believe that capitalism grinds to a halt, permanently, because the people who run businesses become disheartened.

They don't. Or if some do, others with dollar signs in their eyes rush in and take their place. If conditions get better and there are opportunities to be seized, seizing will happen.

It is a story in two parts. The first: "They do not think they can make it better."

I talked this week with a guy from Big Pharma, which we used to call "the drug companies" until we decided that didn't sound menacing enough.

I assume this is one of "those members of the American leadership class who are not in Washington." I accept Noonan's word that he's "not in Washington." He's just represented by some really, really well-positioned people in Gucci loafers who are in Washington.

He is middle-aged, works in a significant position, and our conversation turned to the last great recession, in the late mid- to late 1970s and early '80s. We talked about how, in terms of numbers, that recession was in some ways worse than the one we're experiencing now. Interest rates were over 20%, and inflation and unemployment hit double digits. America was in what might be called a functional depression, yet there was still a prevalent feeling of hope. Here's why. Everyone thought they could figure a way through. We knew we could find a path through the mess. In 1982 there were people saying, "If only we get rid of this guy Reagan, we can make it better!" Others said, "If we follow Reagan, he'll squeeze out inflation and lower taxes and we'll be America again, we'll be acting like Americans again." Everyone had a path through.

Um, really? Let me introduce you to some fellows who were discussing the state of America in 1982. They didn't have "a prevalent feeling of hope." They would have said they "knew we could find a path through the mess." A lot of people felt exactly the way they did, which is why this song was a huge hit:

Now they don't. The most sophisticated Americans, experienced in how the country works on the ground, can't figure a way out. Have you heard, "If only we follow Obama and the Democrats, it will all get better"? Or, "If only we follow the Republicans, they'll make it all work again"? I bet you haven't, or not much.

Actually, I hear things like that all the time. Mostly, I hear them from people on your side, Peggy -- teabaggers who say, "We have to take our country back from the Kenyan Muslim socialist usurper! Then we just have to lower taxes, and also seal the borders and deport all the immigrants and kill and torture all the terrorists and solve all our health-care problems with tort reform! And do something about that Soros guy!"

Occasionally I hear it from our side -- "Just primary all the Conservadems!" But, yeah, I hear stuff like that a lot.

... Part of the reason is that the problems -- debt, spending, war -- seem too big. But a larger part is that our federal government, from the White House through Congress, and so many state and local governments, seems to be demonstrating every day that they cannot make things better. They are not offering a new path.

Trying to achieve near-universal health care: not a new path. Cap-and-trade to encourage development and use of alternative fuels: not a new path. Same old, same old.

... And so the disheartenedness of the leadership class, of those in business, of those who have something.

Ah, now we come to the crux of the matter: this isn't about us, it's about them. It's those guys who are grumpy.

This week the New York Post carried a report that 1.5 million people had left high-tax New York state between 2000 and 2008, more than a million of them from even higher-tax New York City. They took their tax dollars with them -- in 2006 alone more than $4 billion.

Oh, bloody hell. This is a crock, Peggy. See my post.

...I talked with an executive this week with what we still call "the insurance companies" and will no doubt soon be calling Big Insura. (Take it away, Democratic National Committee.) ... The executive said of Washington: "They don't understand that people can just stop, get out. I have friends and colleagues who've said to me 'I'm done.'" He spoke of his own increasing tax burden and said, "They don't understand that if they start to tax me so that I'm paying 60%, 55%, I'll stop."

Ah, there it is. Going Galt! Hey, we really could do it, you know! So don't mess with us!

I said it above and I'll say it again: This can't happen. If there's opportunity in an economy and some idiots walk away from it in a fit of pique over, God forbid, being taxed, or regulated, no biggie -- someone else will seize the opportunities. That's the way capitalism works -- money-making opportunities simply don't go unseized. The bizarre thing is that Ayn Rand, the alleged High Priestess of Capitalism, didn't understand that. She was just so jealous of communists and socialists and union workers who seemed able to organize collectively. But they were doing it to empower themselves. Collective action to disempower yourselves -- if it could ever happen -- would never leave the power you abandoned just lying around. Someone would take it.

He felt government doesn't understand that business in America is run by people, by human beings. Mr. Frank must believe America is populated by high-achieving robots who will obey whatever command he and his friends issue. But of course they're human, and they can become disheartened.

Wait -- they're not going Galt for political reasons. They're pouty! They're mildly depressed!

Won't someone give our poor, disheartened executives a hug? Or an Abilify?

...And here is the second part of the story....

When I see those in government, both locally and in Washington, spend and tax and come up each day with new ways to spend and tax -- health care, cap and trade, etc. -- I think: Why aren't they worried about the impact of what they're doing? Why do they think America is so strong it can take endless abuse?

I think I know part of the answer. It is that they've never seen things go dark....

They don't feel anxious, because they never had anything to be anxious about....

We are governed at all levels by America's luckiest children, sons and daughters of the abundance, and they call themselves optimists but they're not optimists -- they're unimaginative. They don't have faith, they've just never been foreclosed on. They are stupid and they are callous, and they don't mind it when people become disheartened. They don't even notice.

Right. Barack Obama: born to a teenage mother and a father who abandoned him and then died. Mother remarried and moved him to Indonesia. Later, mother went off to do fieldwork and sent him back to Hawaii to live with his grandparents. Pretty much everywhere he went, he was one of the only black people he saw.

Lived in New York as a student during a period of severe economic downturn. Moved to Chicago to work with poor people. Married a woman who grew up on the South Side of Chicago.

Yeah, that guy's just had it so freaking easy, hasn't he?

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