A Must Read Piece About America's Future, Ctd


Jim Manzi's long article in National Affairs on the international economic order and America's past and future place in it hasn't gotten the attention it deserves (besides a pair of posts by Friedersdorf). Here's a good-sized chunk that begins by criticizing the stimulus:

Only about 5% of the money appropriated is intended to fund things like roads and bridges. The legislation is instead dominated by outright social ­spending: increases in food-stamp benefits and unemployment ­benefits; various direct and special-­purpose spending relabeled as tax credits for ­renewable-energy programs; increased funding for the Department of Health and Human Services; and increased school-based financial ­assistance, housing ­assistance, and other direct benefits. The objective effect of the bill is to shift the balance of U.S. government spending away from defense and public safety, and toward social-welfare ­programs. Because the amount of spending involved is so enormous, this will be a dramatic material shift not a merely symbolic gesture.

Meanwhile, the federal government has also intervened aggressively in both the financial and industrial sectors of the economy in order to produce specific desired outcomes for particular corporations. It has nationalized America's largest auto company (General Motors) and intervened in the bankruptcy proceedings of the third-largest auto company (Chrysler), privileging labor unions at the expense of bondholders. It has, in effect, nationalized what was America's largest insurance company (American International Group) and largest bank (Citigroup), and appears to have exerted extra-legal financial pressure on what was the second-largest bank (Bank of America) to get it to purchase the ­country's largest securities company (Merrill Lynch). The implicit government guarantees provided to home-loan giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have been called in, and the federal government is now the largest de facto lender in the residential real-estate market. The government has selected the CEOs and is setting compensation at major automotive and financial companies across the country.

On top of these interventions in finance and commerce, the administration and congressional Democrats are also pursuing both a new climate and energy strategy and large-scale health-care reform. Their agenda would place the government at the center of these two huge sectors of the economy, sacrificing some economic vitality for public ­control. The latter program would also create an enormous new federal entitlement.

All told, finance, insurance, real estate, automobiles, energy, and health care account for about one-third of the U.S. economy. Reconfiguring these industries to conform to political calculations, and not market-driven decisions, is likely to transform American economic life.

Manzi defends the article repeatedly in the comments at the Scene.

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