Sunday, February 15, 2009

The trouble with the stimulus

Besides the fact that it's unlikely to work, of course. If increasing government spending were the key to economic health, the economy would be in tip-top shape after 8 years of increasing big domestic discretionary spending by the Bushies. The stimulus is more hair of the dog that bit us.

As this Register editorial points out, however, there are some nasty surprises tucked in to it. Setting up agencies to do research on what kinds of health procedures work better than others is not necessarily a bad idea -- it might even be desirable in the abstract -- but it is likely to and is probably designed to lead to government dictating to doctors. (Not that Betsy McCaughey doesn't have critics.) And the "Buy American" provisions could well lead to a trade war, which would deter economic growth. Governments typically turn in a protectionist direction when economic troubles hit, and protectionism makes things worse. Will we ever learn?

Perhaps the most odious aspect of the bill was the fact that the programs mentioned above and dozens of others were just tossed in without anything resembling the usual procedures -- subcommittee hearings, witnesses offering objections and support, amendments, changes reflecting criticisms, same thing at full committee, then one house, then the other. All that stuff can seem tedious, but it's at least a modest safeguard against huge mistakes (not that they don't get made despite them). This bill makes drastic changes in a number of government programs without anything remotely resembling deliberation. Most everything negotiated behind closed doors. So much for change and transparency.

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