So the "stimulus" package, a dagger through the heart of the economy, has passed. The geniuses who govern us, who insist that seizing the produce of the voluntary economy and devoting it to arbitrary projects will make us wealthy, have had their victory.
Much of the debate turned, unfortunately, on how much "pork" was in the bill. This or that spending program was silly or an obvious waste of money, critics said. All too true, of course, but unless we’re looking to be hired by the Titanic’s Department of Deck Chair Rearrangement, we’re missing the point with arguments like this.
The primary fallacy of the tooth-fairy economics at the heart of the stimulus is the very idea that economic health is the product of government spending, which is financed either by borrowing (which leaves private businesses with a smaller share of the pool of savings for them to borrow from), printing money out of thin air, or direct seizure from the population. Whatever government spends the money on is necessarily arbitrary — government lacks the profit-and-loss feedback mechanism that keeps the private sector from squandering resources and employing factors of production in ways that do not cater to consumer wants. It can seize its resources from the people without their consent, and it makes no difference to government whether or not people actually want or wind up using the things it produces. Meanwhile, the economy loses the goods that would have been produced by the voluntary sector had the government not seized these resources for its own use.
The more sophisticated Keynesians, if that isn’t an oxymoron, will come back with the argument that while they really do agree with you in cases when the economy is experiencing "full employment," your point doesn’t apply when there are "idle resources." In that case, we can "stimulate" those idle resources into action without drawing resources out of alternative employments. These resources currently have no alternative employments.
Thomas E. Woods, Jr. [send him mail] is senior fellow in American history at the Ludwig von Mises Institute. He is the author of nine books, including the New York Times bestseller The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History and, most recently, Meltdown: A Free-Market Look at Why the Stock Market Collapsed, the Economy Tanked, and Government Bailouts Will Make Things Worse. Visit his new website.