Obama clueless on economic development

So President Barack Obama was in my fair city today.  No, I didn’t go hear him speak.  I have a cold that causes me to cough like I smoke 10 packs of unfiltered menthol cigarettes a day.  So instead, I figured I would do what all good bloggers do: criticize his remarks from the comfort of my desk.

In all seriousness, I do believe that the President’s remarks point to his fundamental worldview.  In talking about the stimulus he touts government action but fails to explain how this will actually grow the economy and provide jobs in the future.  Instead, it is about how one time funds will keep some workers in their current job providing mostly government services or how infrastructure projects will magically grow the economy.

Here is his defense of the stimulus:

Now there were those — there were those who argued that our recovery plan was unwise and unnecessary. They opposed the very notion that government has a role in ending the cycle of job loss at the heart of this recession. There are those who believe that all we can do is repeat the very same policies that led us here in the first place.

But I also know that this country has never responded to a crisis by sitting on the sidelines and hoping for the best. I know that throughout our history, we have met every great challenge with bold action and big ideas. That’s what’s fueled a shared and lasting prosperity. And I know that at this defining moment for America we have a responsibility to ourselves and to our children to do it once again. We have a responsibility to act, and that’s what I intend to do as President of the United States of America. (Applause.)

So for those who still doubt the wisdom of our recovery plan, I ask them to talk to the teachers who are still able to teach our children because we passed this plan. I ask them to talk to the nurses who are still able to care for our sick, and the firefighters and first responders who will still be able to keep our communities safe. I ask them to come to Ohio and meet the 25 men and women who will soon be protecting the streets of Columbus because we passed this plan. (Applause.) I look at these young men and women, I look into their eyes and I see their badges today and I know we did the right thing.

This speech is typical Obama in that it is disengenuious and deceptive but full of nice sounding rhetoric.

Keep reading to see why.First, notice how he dismisses his critics as if they all just wanted to do nothing or “repeat the very same policies that led us here in the first place.”  This is a straw-man and he knows it.  There were plenty in the GOP who wanted to act but in ways that were likely to spur the economy not just fund liberal wish lists and government control.  Heck, there were even those who shared the basic Keynesian idea of the stimulus but who felt the particulars being proposed were unlikey to work as they were either to slow or not targeted to promote economic activity.

It is also worth noting that Obama consistently distorts the situation by asserting, or strongly implying, that his opponents got us in this mess.  Bush is to blame is perhaps the central motif of the Obama administration so far.  And this is just hooey.  The Democratic Congressional majority played a role in where we are today; to say nothing of liberal housing policy, Fannie and Freddie Mac; etc. (not to mention monetary policy which is often left out of the discussion by politicians).

The idea that the only choices were continue along the same path, do nothing, or support Obama is typical rhetoric from this president.  He is always the wise and benevolent one rising above partisanship and petty politics while his opponents squabble and dig their heels in to the detriment of America.  This while he, and his co-partisans Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, steamroll leftist policies through in the name of averting a crisis.  The point of all this is to paint Obama as the brave man of action and his opponents as timid hacks when in many cases the opposite is true.

But notice that when Obama gets to the substance of what his brave action has resulted in it focuses on a temporary continuation of government – or heavily subsidized – services.  does Obama talk about how the stimulus is going to jump start the economy by incentivizing business creation and innovation?  No.  He talks about how the stimulus allowed the police recruits he is speaking to and nurses, teachers, and firefighters to keep their jobs.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I like having policeman, nurses, and firefighters, but this ain’t job creation.  And given that these are one time funds this is merely a temporary reprieve loaded with federal red tape and strings.

In the nect section he attempts to get to job creation:

These jobs and the jobs of so many other police officers and teachers and firefighters all across Ohio will now be saved because of this recovery plan — a plan that will also create jobs in every corner of this state. Last week, we announced that Ohio would receive $128 million that will put people to work renovating and rebuilding affordable housing. (Applause.) On Tuesday — on Tuesday I announced that we’d be sending another $935 million to Ohio that will create jobs rebuilding our roads, our bridges, and our highways. (Applause.) And yesterday, Vice President Biden announced $180 million for this state that will go towards expanding mass transit and buying fuel-efficient buses — money that will be putting people to work, getting people to work. (Applause.)

Altogether, this recovery plan will save and create over three and a half million American jobs over the next two years.

Notice again the emphasis on government programs: housing, infrastructure, and mass transit.  Put aside the debate about the benefit of these programs or projects.  Let’s be honest, public housing and transportation infrastructure do not drive Ohio’s economy.  Does anyone really think temporary spending in these areas – not matter how valid the individual projects are – will really change Ohio’s economy in any real way? If this was true how come all that road construction didn’t keep Ohio’s economy growing at a steady clip?  Ohio raised the gas tax and spent more on roads and I don’t recall the job growth then.

Obama, and his Ohio Democratic cohorts, simply fail to understand that government doesn’t create jobs and spark the economy.  More prevailing wage construction projects will not jump start Ohio’s economy in the long term.  Will it help some people keep their jobs?  Sure.  Will it strengthen Obama’s union allies and keep government programs afloat?  You bet it will.  BTW, is the last time Obama funded housing projects a real good example?

Is anyone going to start a business because of the programs he talks about?  Is anyone going to relocate to Ohio and contribute to the economy because of these programs?  Outside of contractors and non-profits dependent on government what exactly is in it for the small businesses and workers who really contribute to economic growth? No, no, and nothing.   And please don’t tell me high speed rail.  Because even if that might help business in Ohio – I very much doubt it – it is a long way off and a very unsure thing at this point.

The problem here is fundamental.  The only thing Obama knows about is government.  His whole career has been about using government to engineer social change and fund programs.  For Obama the government is the hammer in his tool belt and so every where he looks he sees nails.  There is not a hint of true economic development and growth in that whole speech.  It is about funding government jobs and projects in the name of economic stimulus.

Further proof that Obama is looking at this crisis through the wrong lens is his conclusion, a rousing call to service:

The job you signed up for is not easy. It can mean long shifts and late nights. It demands focus, and determination, and great bravery in the face of unknown dangers. When you run into that building or chase down that suspect, you will be risking your own life in order to protect the lives of men and women you have never met, and some that you may never know.

But you knew all that when you joined the academy. You knew the risks involved, you knew the sacrifices required, and yet you stood up and said, “I’ll take that risk. I’ll make that sacrifice. I will do that job.”

And that, Columbus, is the very essence of responsibility. That’s the spirit we need in this country right now, no matter what our role is or what our profession that we’ve chosen. It’s a spirit that asks us to look beyond our own individual ambitions to the wider obligations we have as the good citizens of a great nation; a spirit that calls on us to say, “I’ll make that sacrifice. I’ll do that job.”

If we can summon that spirit once more; if we’re willing to look out for one another and listen to one another; if we are willing to pull together and do our part; if we can show even a fraction of the courage and selflessness that these cadets have already demonstrated, then I have no doubt that we will emerge from this crisis stronger than before and keep this nation’s dream alive for future generations.

All of that is great and true.  I am all for responsibility and community service.  I want dedicated police, firefighters, and civic leaders.  I am glad when people give to their community.

But Obama speaks as if this is the action we need in response to the economic downturn.  But the economic troubles we are experiencing didn’t come from a lack of police; from people unwilling to serve their community.  And we can’t community service our way out of this crisis.

What we need is to think about what policies and procedures prevent economic growth; what legal and economic environments are conducive to business innovation and expansion; etc.  Ironically, Obama claims government is the answer and yet never seems willing to look at ways in which government is the problem.  He posits a return to the Great Society as if it were innovative and free thinking.  As if we tried the free market and it failed so back to even bigger government.

Clearly, Obama is in the driver seat politically.  But if the GOP is to return to power it will have to explain to the American people that Obama is playing a shell game.  That more and more government does not equal economic growth.  That businesses create jobs not government programs.  That labor unions and government dependent non-profits can be powerful special interests; and not conducive to growth and opportunity.

Obama loves to give a big speech but the fact of the matter is that he has no idea how to promote economic growth.  What he knows is government spending under the guise of community service.  And that is what we are going to get unless we find a way to communicate with the American people so that they see past his rhetoric to the consequences of his policies.