“Don’t think that we don’t know. Don’t think that we’re not trying. Don’t think we move too slow. It’s no use after crying. Saying it’s a mistake. It’s a mistake.” — Colin Ham
The concept of the mistake always depends on one’s goals. So, when we start off today’s piece we start off with the assumption that the general goal is for government to improve the lives of a majority of the people. Some people think that’s when government does as little as possible. Others think that’s when government does quite a bit more. We’ve learned to deal with these disagreements over the years and both points of view make sense from a certain perspective.
I have long believed that the vast majority of people are motivated by what they think is best for America. Some people call it enlightened self-interest. In short, they believe that what is best for them is what is best for America. It is becoming increasingly more difficult to come away believing that these days.
One great example is the concept of trickle down economics. It is a 40 year economic philosophy that has proven not to work. Of course, we go back to the opening sentence where we put forth the concept of a mistake. If the goal was to create economic growth throughout all segments of the economy and actually increase tax revenue it was a mistake. If the goal was to make the comfortable comforted and the destitute more destitute then it was a raging success.
One of the characteristics of government over the past 20 or so years has been the constant threat of government shutdown. Through high school I never remember the government shutting down. In the past 20 or so years it has shut down numerous times. We have seen the same over the debt ceiling. Politics has become a game of political brinkmanship where members of Congress are constantly governing with a gun to their head.
The upshot is that this is not just how everything works. This is not a natural course. We don’t do these things normally. We don’t purposefully wait until the last minute to get things done. At least that is not how adults in positions of leadership act. When we see crisis on the horizon we begin to act as soon as we possibly can.
That brings us to the debate over stimulus. The stimulus bill comes down to nothing but fiscal policy. The idea behind fiscal policy is how best to collect taxes and spend that money to influence the economy. In other words, how do you get the best bang for your buck? We saw that the stimulus in March did some good, but there were issues to be sure. Some might call them mistakes, but that goes back to the idea of what their collective goals were.
For instance, if your goal was to help small businesses and workers stay afloat then why were numerous large businesses getting stimulus funds? Why did Joel Osteen get stimulus money? Why did the Los Angeles Lakers get stimulus money? Why did other large corporations get stimulus money? The harder question is how my wife and I who never lost our jobs got stimulus money? Did we really need it?
Most countries have done more for their citizens than we have. They understood that this was going to be a longer process. They committed to the hard work of defeating the virus and they committed to the idea that everyone should be as close to whole as possible. We knew the housing crisis was coming. We knew that the March stimulus wasn’t going to be enough. We knew there were food shortages. We knew that unemployment benefits were running out. This didn’t catch anyone off-guard. Yet, here we are.
We could say it was a mistake, but that would put forth the idea that it wasn’t part of the plan all along. No one really does their best work when they wait until the last minute. Some people perform better under pressure than others, but everyone does better when you plan ahead. If Congress acted earlier they could have considered exactly how to get money into the hands of those who absolutely needed it. They could have considered exactly how to save jobs, alleviate the housing crisis, provide unemployment benefits, and save small businesses. Those are debates worth having.
When the House passed their relief bill in May, it sat idle in the Senate for over six months. Why? They could have brought it to the flooor. They could have written their own and debated with the House how to best move forward. Remember, these are things we knew we would need. Instead they did nothing until almost December. Everyone scrambled and we came up with largely the same thing we had before. Yes, ordinary citizens will get some relief, but corporations and other undeserving folks will get money too.
Currently, the 2000 dollar direct payments are being held up in the Senate because of course they are. The battle cry is that we can’t afford it. That may or may not be true. We can afford what we want to afford. If my wife and I don’t get a check it won’t kill us. We have kept our jobs. Maybe we shouldn’t get one. Maybe instead of fighting over liability protections we should have been ironing out exactly which businesses should get relief and which ones shouldn’t. Maybe paying landlords would have been helpful. Maybe paying more business owners directly would have kept more people employed and reduced the need for unemployment benefits. Maybe a lot of things. Instead we rush and fight over 600 versus 2000 dollars. Neither will solve the problem entirely, so we kick the can down the road.