Tom Friedman seems to alternate between days with provocative ideas that challenge conventional wisdom, for better or worse, and days with fantasies built on absurd notions, massive ignorance or delusion, which if implemented would be catastrophic. He’s equally certain and proud of both, so you have to be careful.
Judging by today’s New York Times column, today is Tom Friedman’s catastrophic fantasy day.
In a column in which he fantasizes a joint media appearance with Speaker Boehner and President Obama, Friedman dreams of the two men making humble concessions, then walking hand in hand into the White House to negotiate a “grand bargain” that resolves all the country’s outstanding budget deficit/debt issues. Everything’s on the table, and both sides are earnestly committed to bargain in good faith and reach a reasonable compromise. On seeing this, the market immediately rises a zillion points.
There’s only one problem. The deal Friedman assumes these men would likely produce could wreck the economy and harm millions of people.
Like all too many in Washington, Friedman believes that a grand bargain that dramatically reduced near- and medium term deficits and long run debt would actually help the economy and benefit the nation’s citizens. But instead, it would do exactly the opposite. That’s because the prevailing ideas for what goes into this grand bargain do not include solving any of the nation’s actual problems. And though the debt crisis is phony, the proposals are only superficially about reducing debt. But they have everything to do with crippling the federal government’s ability to function in the public interest.
What Mr. Boehner’s Republicans want is not a trimmer, more efficient government; they want a government that can only support a much smaller public sector and is significantly weaker in dealing with the private economy and those it affects. They want a government so weak it cannot threaten the ability of the financial sector to continue looting the economy and so politically constrained and captured it cannot induce industries to internalize the costs of health, safety and environmental measures needed to protect the public from harm; it would function only to enable what industries want. They want to protect the rich from taxation and do nothing to prevent the relentless transfer, through unfettered non-competitive markets, of the nation’s income and wealth from the bottom 90 percent or so to the extreme wealthiest individuals and corporations, whose actions would become essentially unaccountable to consumers, shareholders and investors.
Against this massive looting, wealth transfer, and frontal assault on the public interest, it’s not clear what values President Obama wants to protect, even assuming he’s competent to do so. He doesn’t seem committed to tax equity, seems little concerned about massive inequality, has rarely if ever mentioned the near 15 percent poverty (nearly 20 percent of America’s children relying on government assistance). He clearly does not favor reducing the power or influence of the financial sector that has ravaged the economy, nor has he fought to check other politically powerful industries and corporations that continue to victimize the public.
Further, Mr. Obama refused to consider any form of universal health care that could effectively challenge rising private health care costs. That’s a principal driver of long-run spending. Mr. Boehner’s Party, of course, regards such solutions as evil socialism. So their “compromise” could remove people from the program by making them wait longer.
On top of this, neither Mr. Obama’s team nor Mr. Boehner’s Party has an intellectually coherent grasp of economics, a credible framework for understanding the nature of our current economic problems nor any affinity for the only solutions known to be workable. Indeed, almost every statement both men make on the economy is wrong-headed and often absurd.
In short, any negotiation between Mr. Obama and Mr. Boehner is highly likely to produce a worse mess, as best, or possibly a calamity. Their deal would likely harm the economy or even produce a recession.
If their grand bargain succeeds in reducing government spending by $4 trillion or more over the next decade, it will slow growth, increase unemployment, cause even more foreclosures, throw more people into poverty, increase the number of uninsured, decimate state and local governments. It would leave the country’s future poorer from a serious deficit in investments in everything a country needs to prosper. And the huge inequities in American life will remain, with an even weaker government available to address them.
Dear Tom: Be careful what you ask for. There’s no one protecting the public interest in that grand bargain. So please use your next alternate day to point this out. — John Chandley (Scarecrow).
Update: Dean Baker has a dream.