Monday, December 8, 2008

Apres moi le deficit

Convinced that a bailout is necessary, and it most likely is, economists across the spectrum are supporting it; still, like many kinds of strong medicine, this one can have unpleasant side effects, as Michael Kinsley observes in this week's Time:

...yes, there is a downside. Even though amounts this large inevitably seem like toy money, it's a real trillion dollars we are talking about spending. Even if we spend the money wisely (on bridges to somewhere), we or future generations will still have to pay it off, with interest. Or, more likely, we will inflate it away, along with the life savings of those who were foolish enough to save all their lives. It's just that the downside of doing nothing is worse. It's an easy choice, I guess. But let's not pretend that it's a happy one.

Too true. As Kinsley also tells us, Harvard economist Gregory Mankiw, who headed President Bush Junior's Council of Economic Advisors, found occasion recently to reflect on John Maynard Keynes, who made a considerable fortune through canny investments and dismissed concerns about deficit spending with the laconic "In the long run, we'll all be dead." Yes, Mankiw replied recently in The New York Times, but Keynes didn't have children.

Well if Keynes didn't, Ann Dunham and Barack Obama Sr. did, and their son is prepared to do what he can to repair the economy—that is, if he is not barred by the efforts of conspiracy activist Orly Taitz, who seeks legal remedies to prevent Obama from taking office in January on the grounds that he may have been born a British subject. So, as it turns out, were our first seven U.S. Presidents (the first one born after Yorktown had the foreign-sounding name Van Buren), but of course, Article II of the Constitution bars non-Americans from the Presidency.

Perhaps Ms. Taitz suffers from the same confusion that bedeviled the Rensselaer County, New York Electoral Commission, causing them to circulate 300 absentee ballots printed with the name "Barack Osama." Three sets of proofreaders missed it; the devil is, indeed, in the details.

Fortunately, the Supreme Court does not share Ms. Taitz's anxiety (never mind the irony of someone with the name Orly Taitz raising suspicions of anyone else's funny-sounding name), but if this issue raises general doubt in the minds of voters, the President-elect might follow the example of 19-year-old animal rights activist Jennifer Thornburg, who legally changed her name to (in that regard, see Nicholas Carr's "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" in the July Atlantic). Echoing one of his campaign comments, Obama might choose, or, as a desperate expedient, I say give him the benefit of the doubt; at least his name isn't Somchai Wongsawat.

In any case, if her cause fails, Ms. Taitz might devote her time, instead, to combating the worldwide plague of junk mail which, as Time tells us, consumes 8 months out of the average person's lifespan. And if junk mail doesn't interest her, she might address a problem for which no bailout will ever be available, the world's shortage of clean water. I don't know if the planet's 326 quintillion gallons were sufficient to lift Noah to the peak of Ararat, but they are sinking out of sight in Lake Mead and elsewhere, and in Harare, Zimbabwe, the government itself has cut off the water supply for lack of chemicals to treat it, and citizens are left to dig their own wells.

Or, if she wants to tackle the other side of the water supply question, Ms. Taitz might visit historic Venice, where Piazza San Marco was under 3 feet of water recently and police had to put up yellow tape to alert citizens where the sidewalk ended and the danger of tumbling into a canal began. Come to think of it, that sounds like an apt metaphor for the situation facing our government with regard to bailouts.

© Michael Huggins, 2008. All rights reserved.

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