Pledging Allegiance to 'the Economy'

Lost in the debate over "bailouts" and "rescue packages" and "infusions of liquidity" is any concern about the proper role of the federal government as delegated and enumerated by the law of the land, the Constitution.

One hesitates to bring it up, fearing the ridicule certain to come to someone who demurs over such a quaint notion. Surely only a spoilsport would place concerns about power grabs and usurpations above getting a deal done and upsetting the stability of financial markets. The economy is at risk! We must address the economy!

Perhaps the economy, whatever that may be, really is something that can be addressed by slick talking lawyers. Trillions of dollars engaging the time and efforts of almost every adult on the globe, initiatives and decisions by individuals and organizations based on knowledge, experience, and carefully considered judgments, a vast and complex organism continually adapting and conforming to new stimuli and ever changing circumstances.... Perhaps legislation and assurances of the political class will cure whatever ails it. But I doubt it.

The idea of federal (or any) politicians "fixing"or "leading" or "making" the economy "move forward" is nothing new, but it runs concurrent with the infantile idea that the federal government exists to fix "problems" of all kinds. Listening to presidential election talk would lead an honest observer, new to the experience, to consider that the election involved some supernatural deities, ready to bring about utopia, if only they get elected, rather than the mediocre executives we get in reality.

This year we have more of the same, only worse. Obama speaks proudly of how he will move "the economy" to a brighter tomorrow. McCain, with equal fatuousness, admits his one weakness is "the economy." Now amidst the breathless excitement of the election we have a massive "problem" that needs immediate and drastic action to fix. So forget constitutional limits, delegated authority, propriety and law, get it done now and work out the details later.

The fallacy that all things are permissible if they can be attached to defending a strong "economy" is something relatively new. Recessions and Depressions have a long history in our Republic and many times, it is true, the actions of our political rulers have been the traceable causes. Thomas Jefferson left office greatly unpopular due to the deep financial depression brought about by his embargo on American shipping. Andrew Jackson fought the Bank of the United States as an emblem of economic privilege and a long period of recession followed. Grover Cleveland returned to office in 1892 facing a severe depression and swiftly repealed the Sherman Silver Purchase Act, maintaining the Treasury's gold reserve. But he still remained the constitutionalist with regard to "bailouts", refusing to distribute seed to suffering farmers: "Federal aid in such cases encourages the expectation of paternal care on the part of the government and weakens the sturdiness of our national character."

Recent events only magnify the danger of federal missteps and miscalculation. The futurist Presidential claim to authority over the economy through supernatural powers and beneficent will, while simultaneously trumpeting the blessings of a free market, massaged and regulated by the powerful agents of the market, would be the source of derisive laughter were it not so dangerous. Consider the current situation:

Today we have the absurdity of former Goldman Sachs CEO, Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, with the urging of former Goldman Sachs CEO, Clinton Administration Treasury Secretary Bob Rubin, and former Goldman Sachs CEO, former New Jersey Senator, now New Jersey Governor, John Corzine, former CEO of Goldman and head of the World Bank, Steve Friedman, former Goldman CEO John Whitehead, and former Goldman alum White House Chief of Staff, Josh Bolten, urging the Federal government to write a check for $700 billion in order to secure financial stability for Wall Street firms like Goldman Sachs.

So this week we witness theatre-of-the-absurd dramatics entertaining the political class, the cable viewing politico geeks, and the semi-conscience concerned masses. Ultra-important Senators (Senators? Of all things!) race to the capitol, putting on hold their seemingly endless campaign, to pose, to inspire, to lead, and to wrangle through the various negotiations supposedly so vital to our financial futures. The President, who only recently commented on the robust health of the national economy, addresses the nation to impress upon citizens the dire straights of the economy and nation. Advocates and opponents of the deal argue long and hard over the cost to taxpayers, the lack of oversight and accountability, whether the deal will work as planned or lead to future "crisis'". But no one raises the basic point. The federal government has no right to buy, to insure, or to invest in private property in order to stabilize the marketplace (or worse, reassure international markets) or for any other reason. 

We are no longer a nation of laws, communities, States, towns and the "mystic chords of memory." Our citizens are no longer free men and women but consumers needing financial protection, health care, education, and above all, benevolent politicians. We are members of the "economy." And economic health trumps all things.
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