Opinion

The market's harsh verdict on Obamanomics

The Dow is sinking and Obama's budget is a disaster. But despite dire trends, free markets will prevail.

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Officially, President Obama's $3.6 trillion budget is titled "A New Era of Responsibility."

That's false on two counts. It's an era – not of responsibility, but of big-government taxation, spending, and regulation. And it's not new. History is full of attempts to inflate the state to grow the economy. Virtually all have ended badly. As Monday's sell-off reminds us, Wall Street's verdict on Obamanomics has been quick and sharp.

The president's budget is right in castigating the "troubled past" of the Bush administration, which spent money like a drunken sailor on education, healthcare, bailouts, and two seemingly endless wars in the greater Middle East, with virtually no regard for how to pay for a rapidly growing national debt.

But now we must confront the troubled future. Obama has adopted the big-spending policies of George W. Bush, with trillions more proposed for education, bailouts, and healthcare. He wants to sharply reduce (but not end) the American presence in Iraq. At the same time, he plans to deploy an additional 17,000 troops to Afghanistan, which may lead to an expanded quagmire there.

Hasn't Obama read the bestseller "Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace ... One School at a Time," by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin? A Pakistani general who talked with Mr. Mortenson aptly identified the real problem in Afghanistan: "The enemy is ignorance. The only way to defeat it is to build relationships with these people, to draw them into the modern world with education and business. Otherwise the fight will go on forever."

In some ways, Obama's plans are more grandiose than Bush's. He wants to encourage green technology and energy independence, and move toward national healthcare. The cost is enormous. The deficit for this year alone is expected to reach $1.7 trillion.

To help pay for this, Obama proposes the largest tax increase in history. Some of this, such as new taxes on oil and gas companies, is explicit. Some of it, such as the new cap and trade program, is quite subtle. And some of it will "merely" repeal the Bush tax rates on high incomes. But all of it represents a tremendous muzzle on the economy at a time when it needs to be unleashed.

Even these huge tax hikes won't be nearly sufficient to pay for the outlays. In fact, to pay for it in full, The Wall Street Journal pointed out, Uncle Sam would have to confiscate every penny earned by Americans making at least $75,000 a year.

What's the future for Obamanomics? The stock market's reaction doesn't bode well. The Dow has fallen 18 percent since the last trading day of Bush's term. Clearly, Wall Street thinks that Obama's tax, spend, and regulate policies will be a disaster.

Despite the dire headlines, the world is not coming to an end, we are not headed into another Great Depression, and free-market capitalism has not breathed its last breath.

In my book, "The Big Three in Economics," I found that the press has frequently and prematurely written the obituary of Adam Smith and his free-market philosophy, only to see a new and more vibrant global marketplace reemerge after being savagely attacked by Keynesians, Marxists, and assorted socialists. Market capitalism survived and prospered after the boom-bust industrial revolution of the 19th century, and the Great Depression and world wars of the 20th century. It will recover from the financial panic of 2008-09 and Obamanomics.

Adam Smith, the supreme defender of market capitalism, expressed this optimism well in 1776 when he wrote in "The Wealth of Nations":

"The uniform, constant, and uninterrupted effort of every man to better his condition ... is frequently powerful enough to maintain the natural progress of things toward improvement, in spite both of the extravagance of government, and of the greatest errors of administration."

In sum, the ideas of Adam Smith and his modern followers will make a comeback. Already, pro-market forces are gathering in Congress to defeat Obama's ambitious and highly socialistic agenda. Charities and nonprofits are already up in arms about the proposed limits on tax deductions for wealthy donations for good causes.

I'm doing my part by holding the world's largest gathering of free minds at FreedomFest, July 9-11, 2009, in Las Vegas. For details, go to www.freedomfest.com. I hope you will join us.

Mark Skousen is editor of Forecasts & Strategies, and author of "The Big Three in Economics: Adam Smith, Karl Marx, and John Maynard Keynes."

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