Monday, February 9, 2009

Post No. 85: Why We Suspect, To Our Dismay, That “Whatever” Our Leaders Devise Will Not Work

© 2009, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

Unlike apparently most citizens, we haven't, here at the Institute, read the most recent versions of the economic stimulus bills proposed by the House and the Senate.

Consequently, we are not in a position to competently comment about them.

As a general rule, we try to refrain from judging legislation which we have not personally reviewed.

Additionally, we have not personally viewed all of the “legislative history,” to the extent that any actually exists at this point in time, to determine the specific intent of the writers of specific provisions.

Quite frankly, after all of the, what appears to have been intentional misinformation or false information disseminated by various factions during the presidential campaign, we are not inclined to believe some of the partisan media outlets and organizations, and most of the spin out there.

We realize, as does most of the public, that with most laws, after being enacted in broad terms by a legislative body, some administrative agency (consisting of bureaucrats and not elected officials) actually interprets the goals of the legislation. It writes the rules and regulations applicable thereto, thus generating the details for implementation.

Being aware of that, we are simply not in a position to contest anything which any faction might suggest.

However, we will note this.

If it were all that simple, to come up with the formula, as so many seem to suggest these days, it would have been done by now.

By this we mean that, if society, including the top people in the field of economics, had arrived at some clear consensus about what works under these circumstances (including a true cause and effect relationship), with some degree of certainty, we would have done it by now.

Obviously we haven’t figured out what works, at least not with any degree of certainty.

That's just common sense.

In an emergency, you do what works based on experience, assuming you’ve been there before, or you switch into a common sense survival mode.

However, this is not about common sense, because this is not about the American people as a collective whole. It’s far more complicated than that.

This is significantly about what the politicians can get for their constituents back home, in the various 50 states, and various thousands of counties and cities.

And thus the potential beneficiaries are not similarly situated or interchangeable units.

We’re afraid that this is, quite simply, just another exercise in herding cats.

And lots of them.

Of all different breeds and sizes.

And with different appetites, including some mountain lions, cougars, and panthers.

You can't have this many individual elected officials, each trying to advance their own personal interests and the interests of their constituents, and come up with anything that makes “common” sense.

Apart from the common sense issue, this “effort” defies even the most basic principles of organizational management theory. Keep in mind that governance, in theory, is about management.

Simply put, there is no central, unifying purpose or goal, upon which the citizens have agreed.

Rarely has a nation found that degree of unity in purpose in the absence of war.

Right now, we’re too busy squabbling amongst ourselves, and we will continue to do so, even after a measure is passed.

Just think about it. What is the probability of success of this measure after passage, when some factions will continue to whack and snip away at it?

That’s roughly akin to a marriage where the parents of each spouse spend each day telling their child why he or she should not have entered into the marriage, and why it will not work.

As if they don’t have enough problems with which to deal without the parental involvement.

If we truly viewed this as a broad-sided attack on our survival and ultimate existence economically, we’d all be facing the same direction, with similarly drawn weapons, ready to defend against the oncoming missiles lobbed our way.

Instead, we’re spending the bulk of our time attacking one another.

And with ferocity.

At least we’re a colorful bunch of cats.

We’d like to find someone willing to put a substantial wager down on the probability of success of this team winning the roll of the dice.

Just let us know. We’ve got our money ready.

© 2009, the Institute for Applied Common Sense


  1. By implication, you suggest that a dictatorial regime might fair better. Now, I know that is not what you espouse. Nor what you intend to imply. However, we function as a democratic republic. That is a "herd of cats" almost by definition. We are groups of like minded individuals (on a general scale) who jockey for position and power and champion differing perspectives. Only non-democratic systems can operate efficiently in terms of political will. It does this by determining what that will should be (sometimes being right, sometimes wrong) and then implementing it. It may, but does not have to, tolerate and heed dissent.

    We should not have, and I actually fear, bipartisanship on a large scale. It would be tantamount to dictatorship.

    And, by the way, I (for one of many) do not view the current economic distress sufficiently dire as to threaten our existence.

  2. Douglas: We are in total agreement with you that we are a "herd of cats" by definition. There is a lot of good that comes about from hanging out with all sorts of cats from everywhere. There are also some problems.

    We think that it is important to recognize the limitations inherent in our form of governance, so that we do not develop unrealistic expectations or give false hope. It is what it is. Should the citizens have a desire to change it, there is a mechanism in place.

    Would one try to drive from stateside to New Zealand in a Volvo? Or even a Mercedes? Probably not.

  3. Douglas summed it up well. I agree that our government is indeed set up on a system of checks and balances and that does not produce dissent. If anything- it prevents the occurance.

    The only thing that I would want to add is that I think it’s instinctive of human nature to be cautious. Regardless of being members of the whole, we have to protect our own.

    Images of the old west come to mind. We used to meet any visitor with a shotgun in hand. It wasn’t even considered rude or threatening. It was just what people needed to do to protect themselves until they knew their would be no harm. We were just more blatant about who we really are in those days.


  4. Reggie, I think you are very insightful for observing that there is no unanimity with respect to the best course to take in an economic situation such as this.

    One thing we need to recognize, however, is something that certainly is true in the field of medicine. Sometimes, it can be more harmful to do something just for the sake of appearing to do so, than to do nothing. It is theoretically possible that doing nothing is the best approach.

  5. There certainly is nothing new about political opinions differing between parties. If we are going to have multi-parties, we are going to have different priorities. Having said that, the problem of "pork barrel" politics is more of a problem because the folks back home want to see Federal money spent in their district. Of course, we forget the money came from our taxes, generally (or borrowed from China, lately). This last election pretty much demonstrated what WE want. The Dems/Rep have both determined that what we really meant is some more special pork to come our way. NOT! I will speak for myself, I do not agree with Republican economic philosophy. I want to see the government get some programs out that start jobs now and prepare for longer range projects. To heck with tax cutting for now. Obama has more patience than I, for I say to the Repubs: "Get out of the way!"
    I should probably apologize for my rant, but I've had it!

  6. Sorry, Dan, but this bill has little to do with creating jobs and a lot to do with payback of supporters and some growth of state and federal government. If you really want to change the way things are done in the US governments (state and federal) then it is time to vote out incumbents. That has to be done at the local level. It isn't the other folks' senators and representatives, it is ours!

  7. Obviously, Mr. Perin hasn't read Log's last post about the unspent after all this time authorized Katrina money. The only stimulus that is likely to act quickly is to offer tax credits to companies for creating jobs. This coupled with tax cuts to let people keep more of the money they earn to spend. With neither of these measures will the government have to "print more money". In the case of tax credits the companies can not claim them and there fore not pay taxes in that amount unless they have first hired someone to whom they are paying wages from which taxes are being taken. This employed person in turn spends the money causing more taxes to be paid, etc, the same money goes around and around.

    With more jobs created and tax cuts the people will be given confidence with the first and more money to spend with the second. Again the money keeps churning and "stimulating"!

    Spending programs on the other hand do nothing at all. Most of the money allocated just sits there unused, but it is on the books and can be used any time even years from now. Government spending programs also force more borrowing from China and Japan and India the top three holders of US-T bills. And since our national debt is not the $10 trillion bandied about, but actually closer to $53 trillion I think we could say that the United States is already almost owned by China, Japan and India. Do we really want to sell the bucket as well as the mop and soap?

    By the way folks, if you wish to sign the petition making the rounds nationally against the stimulus bill go to my site. Very easy just give email and name and click. (over to the right on this site under And So I Go) BB

  8. Doug, I agree that change begins with new blood and I try to make intelligent decisions about who I vote for. I do not, for example, feel it is only the congressional members from other states that are the problem. (Of course, here in Oregon we have some pretty good folks!)

  9. Douglas: In thinking further about your comment, we agree with you that if one views this situation as not particularly serious, then bi-partisanship is not a detriment, and probably a positive factor because of the check and balance function that it serves. However, if one views this situation as grave or serious, then bi-partisanship is clearly a detriment. Imagine an army arguing internally about the battle tactics to be used as the enemy approaches.

  10. Arguably, to suggest, as the conservatives have done, that this has to do with rewarding supporters of the progressives, does not advance any societal interests in any way. The same applies to the contention by the progressives that the proposed bills create jobs. The various proponents should be more specific and identify the specific sections of the bills, the elected official who is repaying his or her supporters, and identify the supporters receiving the benefit of a specific provision, so that we might be able to properly assess this contention. The same level of scrutiny should apply to those sections which will purportedly create jobs. We should be able to identify the section, identify the industry affected, identify the location of the industry expected to receive the benefit of the spending, the estimated time for the jobs to be created, and the dollar amount. This is not intended to be exhaustive; however, this provides some sense of the level of detailed scrutiny which should be taking place. Nothing is accomplished, by either side, dealing in generalities.

    If we remember correctly, Brenda Bowers (whose blog is “And So I Go,” a link to which we have in the right, light green column), had an article on her site providing an itemization of the sections to which the Republicans objected and the reasons why. That at least is a start. Let’s stop dealing in generalities which only reflect our philosophical differences, but which do nothing to advance the agenda.

    Now, that being said, you know as well as we know, that this type of analysis will not be conducted by the American voting public. The politicians know it too. That’s why they choose to frame the issues in a manner which discourages further examination. And we buy into it. This is ridiculous. Whoever said that all of them should be voted out gets our support.

  11. Thanks Vikki for stopping by. We know that you've been very busy with the expansion of your artist community and associated Gallery (the link to which appears to the right in our blogroll located in the light green column). We really appreciate you taking time out to participate in this discussion.

    Even if we have checks and balances, if the situation or threat is deemed serious enough by enough citizens, then all parties will suddenly see things similarly and cooperate to respond in some unified fashion. Arthur Schlesinger discusses this in his book, "The Disuniting of America." He essentially argues that it takes an extreme threat or danger to draw people together and temporarily abandon their traditional positions motivated by self-interest.

    Speaking of protecting ourselves, we let the charlatans on Wall Street walk away with billions, and they did not even have to use a weapon. More significantly, there will probably be little in the way of criminal prosecution, because, in most instances, what they did was not against the law. Furthermore, proof of fraud requires very specific allegations, backed by strong evidence.

  12. Mr. Guarino: Welcome. Just to clarify our contention, it is that there is no unanimity in the economic expert community as to what specifically should be done, to any degree of certainty. We suspect that our elected officials do not have a clue, and are simply clinging to their traditional party lines. We feel that the focus should not be on philosophy, but rather what will work. The fact that there is little, concrete proof of what will really work, on either side, leaves room for each side to put forward their proposals consistent with their traditional party philosophy. How ridiculous is that?

  13. Why do we suspect it?
    Because many well intentioned and brilliant people have not succeded to stem the tide before this and thus many people have understandably lost confidence in the ability of the government to get the economy on track. After all politicians rarely manage to stop sniping at the other side and readying themselves for the next election, and the ultimate answer for the economy won't be handed to us by the government. President Obama knows that as well or better than most but he also knows we need to apply a turnicate before the patient can get to the hospital where the surgery will be performed.

    I know government can't provide a panecea for all of our national problems. What it can do and what the President is doing is to make us all suspend our disbelief long enough for us to get out of our own way. On top of that he is the man with the plan or perhaps I should say plans, and some of them bode very well for aiding American youth to recieve the kind and quality education and skills that will make them a viable workforce for a 21st century economy. Plus what the heck, if somebody hadn't started to sink serious money into infrastructure I think we are in for a series of tragic bridge and tunnel disaters. Have you seen the reports on our crumbling infrastructure? It could make you wary of taking road trips.

  14. Welcome Dan. In the first sentence of your comment, you indicated that there is "nothing new about political opinions differing between parties." We suspect that the vast majority of the American public would agree with you.

    However, upon viewing a presentation on C-Span2 Book TV this past weekend, a statement made by an author called into question this common belief. David Denby mentioned that the type of partisan rancor which we are observing today is a relatively new phenomenon. He even cites the point in time in modern history when it developed. Interestingly, he said that the Democrats showed Newt Gingrich how to be partisan, and that Gingrich took it to a whole new level. I am sure that historians can debate this long into the night. (By the way, that presentation will air again on two occasions later during this month. (

    We looked up the definition of "pork barrel," and noted that there is some complexity to the definition. ( Fortunately, you used it appropriately, although it does not appear that most politicians do so.

  15. June, June, June. If you weren't so passionate about your views, we'd extend an invitation to you to join us as a Senior Fellow here at the Institute. Unfortunately for you (or perhaps fortunately), we require a level of detachment permitting us to argue any position in the universe with equal absurdity.

    On a serious level, you have once again hit the nail on the head, from our perspective, in speaking of the tourniquet analogy. You once again receive the Commentator of the Month Award. (We believe that it is your third.) Just an hour ago, in responding to another comment, we thought of suggesting the following scenario:

    Imagine a wounded soldier on the ground in a coastal region. The Air Force airman wants to airlift the soldier out of the war zone. The Navy sailor wants to await the arrival of the boat to carry the soldier away. In the mean time, the soldier is bleeding profusely and slipping away. While the two servicemen debate the issue, they ignore the fact that a tourniquet could be applied to address the bleed in the short term. But they both know what a tourniquet will do and its risks.

    Here's the deal from our perspective on governance. You can choose whatever system you desire, and change it when you desire. However, it can not expect it to be all things to all people at all times. No vehicle works that way. We must recognize the inherent limitations of any system or we run the risk of placing too much reliance on it without tweaking it when necessary to make it flexible and capable of dealing with a dynamic environment.

  16. We were just thinking this morning - the mere fact that there has developed an "expectation" that government should address any of our concerns in society is a notion which we should examine carefully. Consider the different reasons for the development of this expectation:

    (a) Government does it best;

    (b) Government is the only way it can be done;

    (c) We abdicated our personal responsibility to handle our own affairs;

    (d) By having government do it, we achieve efficiencies which can not be matched individually; and

    (e) We pay so much in taxes that we want something of value for our money, and as the amount of taxes paid increases, we expect more for our money.

    Some would argue that what we are witnessing in Congress at this point in time is exactly why government should not be allowed to do anything in our society other than those absolutely essential services which can not be provided by the private or non-profit sector. We, as a society have grown to expect the government to perform certain functions; but should we be trying to gradually reduce the number of services provided by government, particularly because politicians are intimately connected with government?

  17. Log, I don't disagree that a serious external (or even internal) threat unites a country. However, politicians wishing to pass a huge bill full f some awfully frivolous (and questionable) pork screaming "the sky is falling! The sky is falling!" does not yet constitute a serious threat in my opinion. I thought this political party was against the "Politics of Fear"? Yet, instead of a the threat of terrorists, they have merely switched it to the Great Economic Meltdown. There are some books which argue against the re-invoking of the policies of the New Deal. You might consider them also. One is "New Deal or Raw Deal" by Burton W. Folsom, Jr.

    Act in haste, repent at leisure.

  18. Thanks Douglas for your input. Last evening on Charlie Rose, Charlie had about 5 or 6 different reporters from prominent publications. Some of them had covered the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland earlier this year, which was attended by all of the major power brokers internationally.

    Charlie asked one question which is relevant here: What surprised you most about speaking with people in the banking and financial industry? The reporters indicated that they (the reporters) are usually viewed as pessimistic and dire about going forward, and receive criticism for that attitude. The reporters claim that now, the CEOs, bankers and financial people appear to be very concerned and worried. This is the first time in their lifetimes that capital has dried up. The absence of capital for business is a significant issue.

    Two other points were mentioned. The first being that the financial community saw the problems coming down the track over a year ago, but claim that their warnings to the Bush Administration went unheeded because we were too focused on the war in Iraq. The second is also related to the war in Iraq, in that our nation's attention generally has been distracted over the last 5 years, and that we have not been addressing other societal issues.

  19. Virtually everyone who we have heard speak on the subject clearly indicates that the policies of the New Deal will not even be an issue here, because the world is a dramatically different place than it was back then. There is no chance of that occurring in today's world.

    If you are referring to "government action" as the "policies of the New Deal," then there is general agreement that government has to be involved, because the private sector is hurting too much, and will be gun shy for quite some time. One economist claims that the key issue is credit, more than anything else.

    We'll tell you this, if you've been an employee all of your life, you can't imagine the importance of having a line of credit from a financial institution to make payroll. Income from any type of business just does not come in (i.e., cash flow) with any regularity or consistency to make payroll in the manner in which employees like to get paid. Trust us on that one. Talk about a roller-coaster ride.

    Finally, the economists in the academic community are really concerned, from what we can tell. We'd suggest listening to the academics, not the politicians, these days.

  20. Our new Treasury Secretary just started his presentation, and will outline the key elements of his plan. C-Span. NOW.

  21. Tough choice of those that people will listen to; politicians or academics. Politicians have about the worst rating on matters of trust but academics are viewed as being out of touch with reality by the majority of the public.
    Consider the different reasons for the development of this expectation:

    (a) Government does it best;
    Government does SOME things best. Nobody in their right mind would suggest turning over the running of the military to Blackwater or privatizing the fire department. We wouldn't hand over the care of the national forests to logging and mining concerns nor abandon the care and maintenance of roads, bridges and tunnels to private operators who could charge whatever the market could hold for use of the same ( visions of learning about shunpikes back in RD grade rise up before my eyes ).While I find the FDA is poorly handled and needs a giant kick in the kiester, memory of life before regulation in those industries as well as many other industries can be sobering. I am brought to mind of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle and the works of Dickens or simply the stories of those elders still alive that can tell of the horrors of a life when the private sector had no public accountability.

    (b) Government is the only way it can be done;
    Perhaps not the only way and often not the best way but we may have reached the tipping point where now it is necessary to have it involved.

    (c) We abdicated our personal responsibility to handle our own affairs;
    No we didn't, no we aren't, no we shouldn't.

    (d) By having government do it, we achieve efficiencies which can not be matched individually; and
    Yes and no. As inefficient as government can be it can be matched by some of our largest corporations. What government can NOT match for efficiency is the really small business concerns. The mom and pop places which this huge bill does not sufficiently address other than to impose heavier burdens.

    (e) We pay so much in taxes that we want something of value for our money, and as the amount of taxes paid increases, we expect more for our money.

    We pay a lot in tax and we should expect something for our money. What we can't expect is everything. Government has its' limits. We as a nation need to remember how the balancing act works.

  22. Log, I understand that the issues causing the economic downturn of today are different than they were in 1929-1030. However, this administration appears to be attacking them as if they were the same. "Let's spend, a lot, to get the economy going again". And that is even knowing that isn't working. I once commented elsewhere that there is only two things government knows how to do: tax and spend. As the old saying goes, if you are a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

    If the answers are not bailouts then throwing more money does not change it. Sometimes, and I know this is difficult to accept, doing nothing is the right thing to do. Think of the car going into a skid. The worst thing you can do is hit the brakes but that is the instinct. The next worst thing is to hit the gas. The best you can do is keep the wheels turned toward the direction of the skid, take your foot off the gas, and let it happen. Ride it out.

    What's the other adage? If you find yourself in a hole, it might be a good idea to stop digging.

  23. Jeez, June! You get another Commentator of the Month Award, your second in as many days, so we guess that this applies to March. The rest of you, we're sorry. June is on top of things and works hard to keep us honest.

    The answer is (c) We abdicated our responsibility as a society.

  24. By the way June, your other arguments were also very persuasive. We just happened to focus on the one which struck us as paramount.

  25. First off, thanks for the nice comments on my blog logistician. Secondly, if we can't even get the American public to do something as simple as plug their tvs into converter boxes, how can we expect them to understand and follow something as complicated and dynamic as the the economy and the legislation involved to get the ship(hopefully, I have my doubts) back on course? Peace.

  26. Grant: Thanks for checking in. We're with you on that one buddy.

  27. Later today, Thursday, February 11, 2009, at 8:00 pm EST, CNBC will air a program, "House of Cards," which discusses the origins of the global, economic collapse. We saw a preview of it earlier.

  28. Much has been made recently of the perception that America is becoming increasingly polarized, as reflected in the recent presidential election, and the events leading up to the enactment of the economic stimulus package. Later today, Saturday, February 21, at 6 pm EST, C-Span will air a discussion concerning Robert Putnam's book, "Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community."


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