The stimulus had a birthday celebration in the White House on Ash Wednesday and the candles on the cake were all votive — in that they expressed a vow rather than a fulfillment… or perhaps vote-ive. At the gubernatorial conference this week Governor Schwarzenegger added some party favors by taking a swipe at fellow Republicans (the name Arnold and the word loyalty are not synonyms) for playing cash-and-bash with stimulus funds. Yes, it is true, states grabbed some of that falling money in the short term to cover shortfalls. But was that good for America?
It reminds us of the stranger who approaches the priest to alert him to the dire plight of a parishioner. The man owes a thousand dollars to a moneylender but is flat broke. The cleric promises to cover the debt from communal funds.
Then he says to this messenger: “Nice of you to do this service. Are you a friend or a relative?”
“No, I am the moneylender.”
The 787-billion-dollar outlay was debated last year on grounds economic and political: were government jobs and contracts curative for the economy? Does taxing Peter to pay Paul help Mary with improved fiscal flow? Is government obligated or even permitted to engage in such massive interventions? There was room perhaps for such a discourse to have been prosecuted in good faith by both sides.
The facts, however, were not then deemed in dispute. The money would go for infrastructure. Across the fruited plain would be a vast orchard of orange cones. Wherever the roads were soft the hats would be hard. The happy faces of the men wielding jackhammers would be rosy and riveting. We would bridge gaps by fixing gaps in bridges. All Americans would benefit: it would be my way and the highway. The economy need no longer contract and the contractors need no longer economize. The architects would prepare the abstracts and the laborers would pour the concrete.
The optimists claimed this would fix our finances, but even the pessimists agreed it would fix our physical plant. Although selling Treasury bonds to employ citizens to repair roadways would not produce prosperity per se, we would at least have the advantage of sparkling new streets as we explored new avenues. The stupendous number of 787 billion — as opposed, for comparison, to Clinton’s stimulus sixteen years prior totaling 16 billion — guaranteed gargantuan quantities of work. Even if a few billion fell out of the truck on the way to the job site, there was enough there to pave every byway in the country with greenbacks.
Obama, Biden, and now Schwarzenegger extol the results of this overstimulated year, but the nation faces them with broken spirit. Not only has the bill failed to tackle the economy, it never even laid a finger on the infrastructure. Somehow the money has hemorrhaged every which way, but nobody is working, no bridges are being reinforced. and the face of the country has not been materially enhanced. The money has gone to the moneylender, not to the poor family.
The Democrats were honest about only one thing in their initial presentation: this entire project was ready for the shovel.
This goes beyond mere corruption. At least corrupt officials get things done… well, in North America anyway. New York flowered under Boss Tweed and Chicago flourished under Mayor Daley. Greasing the palms would grease the skids. They were paid off the books but they still did the work by the book. Now we have unlimited outflow of funds with nothing in return. No jobs, no efficiency, no achievements, no improvements. Just the usual trophies for cronies: you know the drill, a billion dollars to study why bats are blind, a billion dollars to determine the effect of ammonia on ceramic floors, and lots of money for anything involving corn in Iowa around primary time.
Seven hundred and eighty-seven billion dollars! Think about it. To give you an index into how mind-boggling this is, read some articles written over the last decade about the coming crisis in Social Security and Medicaid or the rising federal deficit. Even when they depict the doomsday scenario, all these programs spinning out of control, no one projects a number more than 400 billion. To think that eight hundred billion could be pirated from the public treasury in one swoop without one concrete and indisputable accomplishment they can point to in triumph. Wow!
So our message to Arnold, as to Barack and Joe, is thanks a lot for the help, but the medicine may kill us before the sickness does. Reminds us of the lady who calls the doctor: “Didn’t you say I have to take this prescription for the rest of my life?”
“Does that mean I am about to die.”
“Why would you say that?”
“Because the bottle says NO REFILLS.”