Frum: Obama rich with ideas, not funds

Marketplace Staff Dec 10, 2008
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Frum: Obama rich with ideas, not funds

Marketplace Staff Dec 10, 2008
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TEXT OF COMMENTARY

KAI RYSSDAL: With apologies to Benjamin Franklin, there are only three things in this life that are certain: Death, taxes, and a really big stimulus package sometime early next year. The president-elect himself said so in his radio address this past weekend.

Commentator David Frum doesn’t think it’s such a great idea.


DAVID FRUM: Barack Obama is collecting accolades for his super-smart economic team. Now let’s see what this super-smart team wants to do.

The president-elect tells us he is planning a huge new spending program. Vast subsidies for alternative energy. Renovation money for schoolbuildings. Grants to local governments for construction projects on a scale that would impress the pharaohs. Altogether, a stimulus budget as big as the interstate highway program.

These are not initiatives to last a season or two. And while they are all packaged together as “stimulus,” most of them will start — and most of the bills will arrive — long after the economic crisis ends.

Without much debate, Americans are undertaking a grand, generational commitment. We are redirecting the economy away from competition and toward government oversight on a scale not seen since World War II. We are building a much more tightly concentrated banking system: a few colossal national financial institutions with seat for government at the board table. We are effectively nationalizing the automobile industry. These are steps very easy to take that will be very difficult to undo.

And we are doing it all with trillions of borrowed dollars. These new debts will accrue just as the old debts to finance the retirement of the baby boomers begin to come due.

The future public finances of the United States looked grim even before Obama’s big plans. Now the fiscal future looks desperate.

Barack Obama suggests he can pay for his plans by cutting back on Iraq spending. OK, that’ll support the first couple of months. He has talked about rolling back the Bush tax cuts and maybe increasing the income limits for Social Security taxes. There’s a few months more.

So what’s the plan? There is no plan. We are just assuming that we can continue borrowing forever, refinancing as necessary.

Wait a minute. Isn’t that how we got into this mess?

RYSSDAL: David Frum is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. His most recent book is called “Comeback: Conservatism That Can Win Again.”

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