Make no mistake, President Barack Obama, with his massive stimulus package and $3.6 trillion budget proposal, has cast himself as a leader who believes populism is a philosophy whose time has come in America.
By his own admission, Obama is a populist crusader who believes 1] only government [and its remarkable ability to spend well beyond its means] can solve what ails this country and 2] it’s time for some wealth redistribution, with corporate America and the rich ponying up to lift the lot of the poor and lower-middle class.
Guess what? A bevy of opinion polls show much of America buys into Obama’s vision of a Europe-like future.
Question: If populism is so great, then why has it failed so miserably in Louisiana?
No one does big-government-knows-best like Louisiana. Thanks to Huey Long, our way of life is to 1] tax the bejeezus out of the fat cats in business, 2] limit the ability of local government to collect taxes, forcing pretty much all public dollars to the state and 3] have the governor and Legislature decide how best to distribute the tens of billions in revenue amongst the state’s 64 parishes.
The theory is this: Those in seer-sucker suits parading around the Capitol and dining at Ruth’s Chris know best, and it’s their job to use the money coming from the wealthier regions of the state and redistribute it to the poorer areas.
Our entire system is based on the premise that business people are greedy, pond sucking scum and a strong central government is mandatory to make sure every parish gets its share and to protect, as Long was fond of saying, “the little man.”
So … how’s that working out?
Our public education system stinks. Our people are the sickest in America and our state-run health care system is a disaster. Our poverty numbers are staggering. Our roads and infrastructure systems are crumbling and we lack the money to do much of anything about it. Our number of politicians behind bars is rivaled perhaps only by Obama’s home state of Illinois.
Our tax structure and our problems make companies loath to locate here—and those that are here often flee [see New Orleans] to neighboring states.
Most damning of all, this state has given birth to an entitlement mentality as more and more residents become dependent upon government. That’s great for politicians looking to get re-elected, but bad for the rest of us.
Which helps explain why Louisiana, once the richest state in the union, is now one of the poorest.
And Obama wants to go national with this concept? He wants to use the populist model to overhaul public education and health care and redistribute America’s wealth?
Oh boy, I can’t wait.
Agree with it or not, history has proven John Maynard Keynes correct: Government, when it decides to throw enough money and resources at the problem, can, indeed, bring an ailing economy back to life.
Yet Keynes suggested that government only be a short-term solution, stepping aside once the private sector shows a willingness to hire, invest and spend freely.
This country ran up tremendous debt thanks to FDR’s New Deal and World War II [roughly 120% of the GDP], but the post-war boom quickly brought that debt in check. Then the economy kept flourishing thanks to our Cold War fears, the growth of auto manufacturing, Wall Street inventing ways to create balance sheet wealth and the willingness of consumers to go into debt.
Obama seems to be following FDR’s script, which, everyone acknowledges, will create unprecedented debt. What concerns me is there appears to be little on the private sector horizon to grow the economy at a rate fast enough (well above the 2.5% of the past decade) to pay down these deficits.
Perhaps Obama and his even further left-leaning allies in the House and Senate are OK with that. After all, their plan seems to make Washington, D.C., this nation’s economic epicenter.
So if anyone out there wants a peek into America’s future, they might want to spend some time in Louisiana.
Somewhere, the Kingfish must be smiling.