MINOT, N.D. — We like to describe politics as the "marketplace of ideas."
If only it were so.
A marketplace, in the economic sense, tends to be innovative. Competition drives a constant need to find the new and improved.
There is little innovation taking place in America's political thinking. At least at the national level.
When we get bad news — like coronavirus, currently — the national political class reaches for their trusty we-gotta-do-something toolbox.
In 2008, the George W. Bush administration sent out "stimulus checks" to every taxpayer ($600 minimum). About a year later, the Barack Obama administration sent out what they called "Economic Recovery Payments" of $250 to about 52 million beneficiaries of specific government programs.
Did the checks work? There's little evidence they helped spur recovery. A relatively small, one-time check from the government is unlikely to change economic behavior.
One study from the University of Wisconsin did find a slightly increased chance of adult emergency room visits among check recipients, phenomenon researchers said might be attributable to the check recipients spending their stimulus dollars on booze and tobacco.
Yet in the absence of evidence for the efficacy of this sort of policy (outside of the sin industry), a bipartisan majority in Washington D.C., led by President Donald Trump, is pushing for more stimulus checks worth perhaps as much as $1,000.
Stimulus spending, too, is back again. In 2009 the Obama administration pushed for and got the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), which included more than a half-trillion dollars in spending.
Republicans jeered the policy as profligacy born of garbage Keynesian economic theory.
Now the Republicans are the ones touting the spending.
In a recent editorial penned for Fox News, Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., suggested we shore up the nation's economy with aggressive spending on infrastructure. "What our economy needs to weather this storm is not merely a blank check stimulus, but policies that invest in long-term growth," he wrote, touting $287 billion in spending, mostly on roads and bridges.
What's next, cash-for-clunkers?
Our roads and bridges may well need that sort of investment, but is it economic stimulus?
The government spends what it takes from our pockets. That taking has its own economic impact.
The politicians aren't expecting you and me to pay for these stimulus efforts.
Our nation is more than $23 trillion in debt. We've already spent every tax dollar you and I will ever pay.
What they're spending now are the tax dollars yet to be paid by our grandchildren.
Let me leave you with these grim numbers: Before the coronavirus crisis, our national budget deficit was forecasted to be nearly $1 trillion. President Trump's economic stimulus package, as I write this, is expected to come in at around $2 trillion by itself.
When President Bush took office in 2000, the entire national debt — not the yearly deficit but the total debt — was just over $3.3 trillion.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.