Friday, February 13, 2009

Stimulus Triskadecaphobia

Passing the $789 trillion bill on Friday the 13th, as Congress seems ready to do, may be a risky move in view of all the voodoo fears about it.

The national mood, as reflected on the editorial pages of today's New York Times, is fingers crossed and fasten your seat belts.

"I’ve got a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach," Paul Krugman writes, "a feeling that America just isn’t rising to the greatest economic challenge in 70 years. The best may not lack all conviction, but they seem alarmingly willing to settle for half-measures. And the worst are, as ever, full of passionate intensity, oblivious to the grotesque failure of their doctrine in practice."

On his right, David Brooks has a gloomy future retrospective: "The nation had essentially bet its future on economic models with primitive views of human behavior. The government had tried to change social psychology using the equivalent of leeches and bleeding. Rather than blame themselves, Americans directed their anger toward policy makers and experts who based estimates of human psychology on mathematical equations."

Amid these gloomy overtones of Hobbes, Yeats et al, the editorial writers steer a mildly optimistic middle course:

"The bill is, for the most part, a step in the right direction. But political wrangling, including President Obama’s futile pursuit of bipartisanship, rendered it smaller and less focused than it needed to be...

"The administration’s next shot at advancing its economic aims will be Mr. Obama’s first budget. The new president should stop courting Republicans who have shown no interest in compromise or real economic fixes. The budget resolution is immune from filibustering. If every Republican wants to vote against it, Mr. Obama should leave them to explain that decision to voters who are in danger of losing their jobs or their houses or both."

Sounds hopeful but, just to be on the safe side, shouldn't Congress wait to pass the stimulus until after midnight when the black cats have done their worst and Valentine's Day will bring cuddly thoughts of bipartisan love into the Capitol?

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