Opinion, please: Role of government

The economy is, according to some, headed for a recession. President Bush has asked Congress to enact an economic stimulus package. Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke agrees, as does Congress. Many of the presidential candidates (Romney, Clinton, McCain, Obama) have issued their own packages while some (Thompson, Kucinich) are not so sure.

I’m curious – if one believes in free markets, then government intervention seems to be a no-no. (The stock market fell immediately after the Bush announcement.) So I really have two questions.

First, do you believe it is the proper role of government to intervene? And secondly, if you do, why not in other cases, such as banning smoking in public places or setting usury interest rates?

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18 thoughts on “Opinion, please: Role of government

  1. Vivian, I probably didn’t answer the question as fully as I should have/could have in order to address an earlier comment. Let me revise and expand:

    You’re right, people are going to pay down bills. It doesn’t stimulate the economy, exactly, but they SHOULD be paying of their debt. It’s in their self-interest not to carry extra debt that accumulates interest. So putting shifting more money and accumulating larger government deficits were never an ideal solution.

    The problem I have with this particular form of intervention is that I find it short-sighted to think that economics is simply about monetary transactions. An economy is a system which addresses a societal relationship of needs between segments of the population, so rather than worry about how much money is in the economy at any time, I’d rather we addressed some of the needs that people are going to have as the market adjusts. I’d like to see us help unemployed workers retool by helping them take classes to build new job-skills. I’d like to take a page from the New Deal and the Tennessee Valley Authority and see some government investment in clean energy sources and transmission infrastructure, thereby diversifying our energy sourcing, creating sourcing competition and encouraging existing energy providers to bring down their prices to be more price competitive. I’d like to reprioritize some of our government spending into domestic programs like the Federal Student Loans program–which I mention specifically because we’re likely to see a lot more applicants if we really are entering a recession because middle-class families that weren’t anticipating a need to take out loans for college tuition are going to have to apply if their financial investments devalue as the market collapses. Those are only three suggestions I could make.

    A little government intervention, strategically and thoughtfully applied, can help people get through a recession and lead us into having a stronger economy in the long run. Unfortuantely, the administration’s solution is handing everyone a check for $800 and begging, pleading with people to take that money and spend it on consumables, and that is neither thoughtful nor strategic.

  2. Somewhere down the line I didn’t think I needed to be told that the day before New Year’s is the worst day of the year to ask someone, especially a homeless someone, if they’d like to kill themselves. So imagine being struck when someone points out that a local big-wig wrapped up their last Friday of the year with a Forum depicting a man – with sheers – smiling and trimming a tree in front of his “Subprime-ensnared” home. Yep, smiling and trimming; subprimed and smiling.

    In their Forum, the editors of the Orlando Sentinel (OS) in Florida asked, “Should government help homeowners caught in the subprime tangle?” And I thought, now shouldn’t that dude in the cartoon be frowning or did the OS fail the brain-paper connection when it chose its OP ART that day?

    So I figured, maybe they had a lot of happy-homeowner letters for me to read about but I was wrong. The peaceful-looking pOP ART dude defied the responses printed.

    What OS published was an overwhelming response against homeowners. I counted.

    Then, I realized, if I were a homeowner in crisis – with a bank note owed months ago, Christmas gifts bought on credit, and barely able to buy just the necessities I needed to survive and stay alive – would I have had the time to write a letter to the editor of the Orlando Sentinel? To be sure, I’m a homeowner myself, though, thankfully not one caught in the subprime housing crisis devastating hundred’s of thousands of Americans today, so I thought I’d write a few lines for them: for those unable, unwilling, or without the time to communicate some basic truths about the symptoms and effects of the now-2008 housing crisis.

    If it is true that the foundation of U.S. government is the American taxpayer and it is this taxpayer, each one, who supports the interconnecting system we call government, and it is also true that government had any hand in causing the current housing crisis, then shouldn’t we expect ourselves, as taxpayers, to foot at least some portion of the bill to fix the problem?

    Ah, if it were only that simple. But it isn’t and its effects did reach proportions in 2007 that could be called the start of an economic pandemic. For example, did you hear about the bank run in Britain? How about the devaluation of the U.S. dollar against – of all currencies – that of Haiti. Or, could you have missed that Abu Dhabi bailed out American-based CitiFinancial Group. How about the German corrections or the worldwide stock market declines? Does any of this sound familiar to you? Do you think it should’ve sounded familiar to those in power?

    I address Federal Chairman Ben Bernanke to say that unless you are playing Make-Believe with the President of the United States, a game best left to pre-schoolers, you would’ve recognize that the bottom line is this: The federal government has a supervisory role over the institution we all know as the Federal Reserve. This is the same entity that allowed interest rates to remain excessively low during the years I fondly call Alan Greenspan’s “irrational exuberance.”

    In 2005, Greenspan retired, and shortly thereafter began the descent of home values, and shortly thereafter began the reign of Bernanke, our so-called “depression expert,” Ben Bernanke.

    When the market began to point distinctly to a housing failure in about June 2004, did the Feds raise “an ounce of interest?” Did they take heed to the economic application of the saying, “an ounce of prevention . . . ?”

    Did Bernanke, via the Feds, consider it was part of the function of government to keep the economy stable? Or did Bernanke have no choice but to say to the world that the American economy is stable when many, too many, indicators show it isn’t?

    Unless one happens to believe that the Federal Reserve is not any part of the U.S., and its government, it would remain to be true that if government caused the problem, . . . well, you know the rest.

    In the end, the Feds not-so-invisible hand of the market has been economically traumatizing millions worldwide, at least until recently, when the one who could have done something sooner suddenly seemed to realize that lowering rates could actually help to alleviate the problem. Way to go, Bennie!

    But it hasn’t been enough. Taxpayers need to recognize a huge balance due by the one I have named Incompetent, the one who should have been busy applying reason to the economy instead of writing about theories of depression.

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