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Stimulating idea February 24, 2010

Posted by WillardWhyte in Musings, Politics.
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I find a lot that is encouraging when I read of things like this, even if when you get to the bottom of the tale you learn that maybe these companies were going to do this anyway — because that’s what they do. But someone decided it was important to stand up, add up all their projected plans for investment and hiring and lay it out there with some hoopla to make a point.

And that provides what they call in the management game a “teaching moment” — for you that translates into a lot more work.

As I float around the blogs I find a great debate about whether that big fat stimulus bill Congress ginned up a year ago has worked. And you can’t turn the corner without someone moaning and groaning about the bailout for Wall Street and the car companies. And now everyone also has an opinion about whether another jolt of government cash needs to be Tasered into the economy, or whether even the thought of that means Socialism is upon us and soon they’ll be coming for our guns.

 Much of what I read falls into the same old Red-v-Blue meatgrinder, but all of it seems to have two things in common: A deep loss of memory of — or appreciation for — exactly where we were a year ago, and a recognition of what needs to happen if we are to edge along the ledge to safety.

We all were surprised passengers in one of the biggest economic train wrecks in history — and some of us are still licking wounds we didn’t invite. Millions unemployed; millions just a signature away from losing the biggest investment of their lives and the family lodestone, and tens of millions barely scraping by, staring a newly shaky retirement in the face without enough time to recoup, and millions also working a job just to make ends meet while trying to somehow deny the truth that the skill they acquired, the trade they learned in the first half of their lives is gone and never coming back.

I read a story today or yesterday somewhere about health care reform, or the jobs bill or some other topic of the day, and someone from the Out Party was given the last word and used it to badmouth government and bureaucrats and the same-old, same-old. Working to tie right into all that anger out there that festered up and lashed out in Massachussets, saying it was clear to everyone that the vote up there was some sort of groundswell rejection of reform and change and …

Well I don’t know about you, but I’m mad too. And I’m frustrated, enough to come out of my stupor and invest my time into something as feeble as this, partly because I know that baying at the damned moon at least gives you the satisfaction of getting it the hell out of your system. If somehow, some way, somewhere someone takes it to heart and it ends up making a skootch of a difference in something, that’s a bonus — one I’ll never be able to measure or take with me. I’m guessing that’s what Sen. Brown was all about — a bunch of people who have been building up a lot of anger, weren’t all that pleased with the over-air reception down on the Potomac and vented, probably with a million or so different combinations of reasons for wanting to light up anyone with a scent of the same-old same-old.

But in our anger we need to remember that Rome was not built in a day, nor was this nation. And that Rome was built by Romans and this nation by us.

Neither construction project succeeded because one person had a grand idea that everyone signed onto on the first day.  No government  leader stood up with a Bill to legislate an empire. And no merchant or fabricator introduced a Thing that half of everyone everywhere would buy after the other half cooked it up.

The numbers show that the stimulus put a lot of people to work and kept a lot of people from joining those millions in the benefits line. Was it perfect? I’m sure it wasn’t. Did anyone think it was going to put all those people back to work in a year?  

Was it necessary? The whole economy was in freefall, and parts of it were going to a grave. Just about everyone was grabbing their money and holding on for dear life. The private sector was throwing as much out of the plane as necessary to keep the thing in the air. The only actor on the stage in any position to do something to try to slow down that momentum was the federal government. Without that injection of money, the damage would have been much worse. The psychological impact of the stimulus probably was as important as the money itself. So as we nurse our wounds and debate the nuts and bolts, let’s all give ourselves that much credit.

The bailouts? Oh I’ve got a lot of moon-baying to do there whenI can bring my blood down to a simmer, but that had to happen too, at least when we’re talking about Wall Street. Because that was a wholesale panic, a complete and utter engine seizing and we can’t even imagine the result had everyone just Hoovered up and let nature take its course. I know I would have been OK because I still had plenty of powdered milk and Spam from my Y2K kit to work from, but even with that comfort I know I was cozying up to people I knew who were — uh — prepared in a firearms kind of way. Paulson says 25% unemployment and he’s just guessing.

That weekend meeting in September with all the Gods locked into the building in New York was a real-life, law suspended lifeboat deal that ended with a decision to eat Lehman and scurry for cover, with a few finding love in the elevator. Now we’re stringing a few up for a lack of “due diligence” and peeking under the TARP to critique the methodology of the short-straw selection and whether there was transparency in disclosures to stockholders. Don’t get me started on who got the gravy, who got the gristle and who was left to knaw on the marrow bone. (Nod to Joni.)

That also had to happen — something had to be done and, once again, the only actor on the stage capable of rounding up the suspects, slamming the heads together and delivering a decision by Monday morning’s opening bell was Uncle Sam. Once again, the autopsy on what got done is ripe for interpretation — and a detailed examination of what’s under that TARP must get done.

Is there more that needs to be done — more “stimulus” necessary? I don’t know; at least I don’t know whether the budget’s in any shape to do any more right now. I know a lot of people don’t think so, just as a lot of people who think the healthcare system needs to be fixed got pretty angry when attention turned to that last summer when a whole lot else was still left undone — like poking under that TARP, coming up with some serious, reasoned fixes for all the things that made that engine seize up and start throwing rods through the floorboard.

Because a whole big stack of our money got thrown at that problem. I believe we had to do that. But I also believe we should not have been in a position where we had to step in like that and prevent Utter Destruction. I, for one, want it fixed and it seems to me that a whole lot of folks who were up there steering the locomotive are not all that interested in having that discussion, because they really, really like the Same-Old, Same-Old.

But it’s late and I’ll bay at Saturn’s fifth moon another time.

I guess where I thought I was going was to the notion that the government isn’t the enemy, because the government is just us. And we averted complete disaster with interventions into what still is the freest, least managed economy in the world. We invested a boatload of cash to try to relight the pilot flame because as a community we were the only game in town. As individuals we were all running for cover, as we had to. As a nation, we got the train at least to a stop.

But my feeling is that it is now time for the community to ramp down and for the individuals to start climbing out of the foxholes and investing in the rebuilding. Taking a measured risk here and there. The private sector needs to get off its collective butt and stop worrying about whether the recovery will last. It won’t without some leadership, and that means someone goes first — with a loan, a hiring, a spade in the ground, a cash commitment to someone with a new idea.

So I say hurray for whoever decided it was necessary to talk about plans for billions in investment in start-up companies, an intent to hire tens of thousands of well-educated, eager kids coming out of college, a confidence in the ingenuity out there waiting for a chance at an idea that might one day crank out something tangible the rest of the world wants to buy.

 Sure, there’s a bit of greed in that inventor’s eye and in the heart of the guys putting up the dough. But I don’t begrudge the builders. Right now, we need a lot more of them, even as we paw the rubble for the reasons for the ruins.

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