David Brooks and the Demand Siders
David Brooks is mostly making sense in his latest column. He’s absolutely correct that more and more indiscriminate stimulus spending is a dubious economic fix at best, and has long-term implications including new unfunded ‘temporary’ government programs and a bailout for public workers while the private sector continues to suffer. He’s right that more debt now means higher taxes later.
Likewise, his ideas to keep extending unemployment benefits and to create a ‘Race to the Top’ for states enacting budget-balancing measures are both decent. I would add that the federal government probably ought to take over Medicaid, which it could manage much better and more efficiently than state governments, and which would free up much needed state funds for other programs. There is really no reason Medicaid should be a state-based program to begin with.
However, toward the end Brooks wades into the vague middle-ground waters of easy moderation. “Focus on the fundamentals,” he writes, in an imaginary address to the Leader of the Free World. “Cut programs that don’t enhance productivity. Spend more on those that do. You don’t have the ability to play the economy like a fiddle. You do have the ability to lay some foundations for long-term growth and stability.”
Now, why didn’t I think of that? Spend less on bad programs, and more on good ones! You taking notes, Mr. President?
I realize that the Op-Ed column is not the best place for in-depth policy suggestions – but still. Brooks can do better than this. To spend the bulk of an Op-Ed criticizing the proponents of stimulus for being too vague in their solutions, too sure of their ideas, and too reliant on dubious models, and then to end on such a murky, indefinable note is a bit unsatisfying. Not as unsatisfying as the end to Blazing Saddles but not anything to brag about either.