Back to the Thirties

Guinevere Nell /

While he spoke about moving forward, and promised change as we look toward the future, in fact President Obama’s inaugural address was firmly entrenched in discredited policies of the past; policies that never worked.

For example:

“Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions — who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.”

His words here are very reminiscent of Roosevelt’s words at the start of the Great Depression. But, our memories are indeed short, if we forget that Roosevelt’s plans were actually huge failures.

Next, Obama invokes J. M. Keynes to support his call to planning, once again invoking a discredited idea from the past:

“What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them — that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works — whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified.”

Keynes argued that the inefficiency of government spending compared with private spending did not apply during periods of recession. He reasoned that when the economy was not at full-employment (i.e. during a recession) government was “better than nothing.” Government could inject the economy with money, by borrowing and spending it, and put the unemployed to work.

Of course, even if borrowing is helpful during these periods, it could still be spent privately (with tax cuts). So, Keynes had to argue that tax cuts are too slow, and that people saving the money, as they might do when given a tax cut, is not as good as government spending the money. However, Keynesian theories have not been supported by reality, and his proofs have long ago been abandoned by economists. Yet, Obama is embracing this new trend toward the past.

Finally, Obama promises that the programs that work will remain and those that fail will be discontinued: “Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end.”

Supposedly, this is a major difference from the past – when, apparently, government cared less about whether the programs were working. Of course, it is rare that a government program is ever ended. As Reagan put it, “There is nothing more permanent than a temporary government program.” It is also impossible to know whether a program is “stimulating the economy.” Those that benefit from them can make this known to all, but those that suffer cannot know or prove that it is the program that makes them suffer: the damage is indirect because it caused by high taxes, the crowd-out of private business, and so on. So, a true cost-benefit analysis of any given program is impossible.

Obama has promised nothing more than a return to the 1930s; to the old discredited economic theories and the old discredited policies of central planning.