Instead of stimulus, do nothing – seriously
Stimulus is unconstitutional. And history shows that the economy can recover strongly on its own, if politicians stay out of the way.
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Although Roosevelt lost this battle, he soon won the war. As the older, more conservative justices retired, the president replaced them with ardent New Dealers such as Hugo Black, Stanley Reed, Felix Frankfurter, and William O. Douglas. The newly constituted court proceeded between 1937 and 1941 to overturn its anti-New Deal rulings, abandoning its traditional, narrow view of interstate commerce and giving the federal government carte blanche to spend, tax, and regulate virtually without limit.Skip to next paragraph
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After World War II, the government enacted the Employment Act of 1946, codifying the government's declared responsibility for managing the economy "to promote maximum employment, production, and purchasing power," and it has actively intervened ever since, purportedly to attain these declared ends. Its shots have often misfired, however, and we have endured booms and busts, a decade of stagflation, bouts of rapid inflation, and stock-market crashes. The present recession may become the worst since the passage of the Employment Act.
Federal intervention rests on the presumption that officials know how to manage the economy and will use this knowledge effectively. This presumption always had a shaky foundation, and we have recently witnessed even more compelling evidence that the government simply does not know what it's doing. The big bailout bill enacted last October; the Federal Reserve's massive, frantic lending for many different purposes; and now the huge stimulus package all look like wild flailing – doing something mainly for the sake of being seen to be doing something – and, of course, enriching politically connected interests in the process.
Our greatest need at present is for the government to go in the opposite direction, to do much less, rather than much more. As recently as the major recession of 1920-21, the government took a hands-off position, and the downturn, though sharp, quickly reversed itself into full recovery. In contrast, Hoover responded to the downturn of 1929 by raising tariffs, propping up wage rates, bailing out farmers, banks, and other businesses, and financing state relief efforts. Roosevelt moved even more vigorously in the same activist direction, and the outcome was a protracted period of depression (and wartime privation) from which complete recovery did not come until 1946.
The US government has shown repeatedly that as an economic manager it is not to be trusted. What we need most are authorities wise enough to follow the dictum, "First, do no harm." The stimulus package will do enormous harm. The huge debt burden it entails, by itself, ought to condemn the measure. America is already drowning in debt. But the measure will also wreak harm in countless other directions by effectively reallocating resources on a grand scale according to political priorities, rather than according to individual preferences and economic rationality. As our history shows, the economy can recover strongly on its own, if only the politicians will stay out of the way.