Thursday, January 15, 2009

Deliberative Government

President-elect Obama is pushing hard to formulate his economic stimulus plan and have it enacted at the earliest possible date. First, he was shooting for January 20, 2009, the day of his inauguration as President of the United States. Then he was aiming for President’s Day in February. Now…there is a good deal of uncertainty.

The idea of an economic stimulus plan is popular with the people of the United States. It is also popular in Congress. But, Congress is a deliberative body…and…this raises the level of uncertainty of when the package will be passed and signed into law.

We have just experienced this past fall when Congress was stampeded to act…we even had a panicked Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke tell Congress on a Friday evening in September that the bailout package had to be passed the next Monday or “all hell would break loose.” And, so Congress gave up some of its deliberative power and moved quickly…although not as quickly as the pale and frightened Bernanke called for.

And, Congress has been regretting the quickness with which they passed the bailout bill ever since. Basically, Congress gave Hank Paulson, Secretary of the Treasury, and the Treasury Department a blank check with not controls and no oversight…at least for only $350 billion of the package. And, Congress…and apparently the Treasury Department…has no idea where the $350 billion has gone and how it has been used. It is, apparently, just gone!

Action like this is expected when there is a royal head of state or a dictator. That is, a dictator or a tyrant can change his or her mind on the spot and move this way or that way on a whim. The founders of the United States did not believe that this was a good idea. The policies and programs of a government should be discussed and debated and lingered over…and not just rushed into. There should be some “conservative” element within the government so slow down the process and get all sides of the issue a chance to be resolved. The founders created Congress to slow things down and muddy the waters.

Of course, there are times when decisions must be made in relative quick fashion…but, even issues that require relatively quick action can stand some time for reflection. Obviously, a balance has to be reached between rapid decision making and deliberation, but the general idea of the founders was that a country should err on the side of deliberation rather than on the side of hasty decision…frustrating though it may be.

Coming back to the present, I believe that the United States government, Congress, should err on the side of deliberation on the stimulus package. We are talking about a lot of money…and for a relatively long time frame.

We are talking about federal deficits of $1.0 trillion or more, not only this year…but next year…and the year after that…and so on…

We are talking about how much of this debt will be monetized…this year…next year…and so on.

Some are even talking about the United States becoming, financially, like a banana republic.

Yes, there are potentially real dangers on the other side. The economic slowdown could become an economic collapse…a second Great Depression.

But, there is no indication that the stimulus package will do what many are saying it will do. There is uncertainty about the combination…increasing spending or producing tax cuts. There is uncertainty about the speed at which programs can be implemented. There is uncertainty about whether the proposed spending will even have the desired effect of stimulating other spending. There are further questions about the ability of the financial system to support the large package.

Deliberation must take place! Even though the situation is serious…we cannot be rushed into this without discussion, debate, and contention. Yes, we want the result to be supported in a bi-partisan way…but this may not be fully possible. However, we want those that are not in favor of the stimulus program to be able to fully express their concerns.

There are too many concerns surrounding the whole situation to move precipitously.

Bernanke panicked the Congress in September to move hastily on the bailout package. There are many, many regrets about this. And, the feeling is that maybe Congress really did not have to move so quickly.

In my experience, many decisions that seem so urgent at the time they occur can really be reasonably postponed. Again, this is a judgment call so the answer is not cut and dried. Still, I have found that it is good to slow down and discuss things in most cases. This leads to a consideration of more alternatives and results in better decisions in the end.

I believe that the founders of the United States were correct in their wish to have this “conservative” element built into the structure of government. We need to take some time to examine issues and the potential solution to the problems the issues contain. We need a deliberative body that will do its work…deliberatively.

Let’s give Congress some time to consider the Obama stimulus plan. Let’s not be rushed into a program that has been hastily conceived and forced through into law by the new administration.

As that world famous philosopher Winnie-the-Pooh said, “A thought may sound very thingish when it is inside your heard, but it may not sound thingish at all when it gets out into the air.”

Let’s follow the advice of Winnie-the-Pooh and get these ideas about the stimulus plan out into the air and see if it is thingish or not!

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