The talk is all of stimuli and other matters economic — how do we re-inflate the balloon of American prosperity? Reality has taken a hat-pin to it, and trillions have gone up in the smoke of foreclosed mortgages and credit-default swaps.
Panaceas are not lacking. Paul Krugman says it doesn’t matter what we spend our money on, as long as we throw it away rapidly and without forethought. I have no doubt that soon we’ll be hearing the ghost of Huey Long promising "Every man a king!" I fully expect the Townsend Plan to come back at some point, along, perhaps, with a revival of interest in pre-Leninist forms of Marxism.
Along these lines, President Obama and his party have come up with a "stimulus package," and I must pause to remark how important language is to these people. It’s a "package," you see, just like a Christmas gift, only better, because they, the politicians, get to play Santa Claus and shower their constituents with presents. This legislative larceny is predicated on the oddly counterintuitive notion that we can and should spend our way out of poverty — that the sins of our profligacy can be forgiven if only we indulge in yet more ravenous forms of gluttony.
To ordinary Americans, this kind of Washington-think is wholly alien: it is Bizarro economics. After all, when normal human beings are in financial trouble they cut back on their spending, as they are doing now. The American polity, in its younger days, would naturally apply the same logic to government, but, in our dotage, we impart magical powers to the organs of the state, which can produce wealth out of thin air, with only the aid of a printing press. Oh, yes, we understand — albeit vaguely — that this is debt for future generations to pay. Yet we recall — even more vaguely — old bromides like "We owe it to ourselves," which are embedded in our collective memory like flies in amber, and we are reassured.