There is logic in advocating for policies that don’t have any realistic chance of being enacted in the short-term. It’s never wrong to ask politicians to the do the right thing, whether it is to free the slaves, give women the vote, end the war in Vietnam, or to close the prison in Guantanamo. On the other hand, there is something wrong with criticizing a politician for failing to do something he or she simply couldn’t do. Which brings me to Matt Yglesias’s dubious argument that not only can the deficit be safely ignored, and that we can use presently low interest rates as a predictor of future interest rates (how’d that work out in Greece or Ireland?), but that the president would find more stimulus spending to be “very much an option for the United States of America. It’s a good option, an appealing option, an option that will increase our wealth over the long term.”
But Yglesias is totally, ridiculously wrong about this. I don’t know how he can sit there in Washington DC watching the House Republicans spew their nonsense and think there is any chance in hell that the president can get appropriations to borrow money “to put people to work on useful infrastructure projects.”
Now, the president could make an argument for why borrowing money while its still cheap is a good way to invest for the future and lower unemployment. But he can’t actually get the money out of Congress. This is the kind of cold reality that Glenn Greenwald so easily dismisses with his theories that constrained politicians are always happily constrained.
The president isn’t powerless, and he can use his bully pulpit to shift public opinion over time. But there is no talking to Boehner’s House when it comes to Keynesian economic theory. So, if more stimulus spending on infrastructure can’t happen, it obviously isn’t an option, good or bad.
And that’s where the disconnect happens. The president isn’t running a seminar. When he builds a decision tree, it’s filled with dead ends. A lot of liberal commentators want the president to take the time to explain to the public why all his decisions are sub-optimal. No thought is put into what happens when the president never takes ownership of his decisions, never sells his own decisions as sound, and always appears to be complaining about his impotency.
We’re not getting another stimulus bill out of this Congress. So, go ahead and keep beating the drum for a Keynesian solution to the unemployment rate if you think it will convince somebody, but it won’t convince John Boehner or Mitch McConnell, and so it isn’t going to happen.
That the president isn’t beating a dead horse is actually something that should comfort rather than concern you.