Economics

Obama on Digging Holes and Filling Them

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A couple of weeks ago Matt Welch noted Matt Taibbi's sharp New York Press critique of New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who is prone to puzzling pronouncements like this:

The first rule of holes is when you're in one, stop digging. When you're in three, bring a lot of shovels.

President Obama seems to have similar trouble with this metaphor. Last week, while condemning Wall Street bonuses, he declared:

Part of what we're going to need is for folks on Wall Street who are asking for help to show some restraint and show some discipline and show some sense of responsibility. The American people understand that we've got a big hole that we've got to dig ourselves out of—but they don't like the idea that people are digging a bigger hole even as they're being asked to fill it up.

First of all, have you ever tried to dig yourself out of a hole? Barring a journey through the center of the Earth, this is not a workable solution. Second, if you're in a hole and want to get out, why should you care that someone else is digging another hole, even if it's bigger? And in what sense is the hole dug by Wall Street bonuses bigger than the recession hole? Maybe Obama meant we're all in the same hole, and the Wall Street bonuses are making it bigger. Either way, though, if you're still in the hole, filling it up is not a good idea, although it may be an apt metaphor for the president's "stimulus" plan.

NEXT: What Michael Phelps Should Have Said

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  1. When the donkey is in the hole, filling it up, slow enough, will allow him to eventually walk out of it. Filling it up too quickly suffocates him…and wastes a lot of dirt. If we’re going to fill these holes, the recipients should stop shoveling but we should only help them incrementally, not by backing up the dump truck.

  2. Actually, I suppose it could be argued that to get out of a hole you would have to dig your way out of it if there were no other means available. After all you would dig in handholds or steps or the like so you could climb out, but I’m just being obtuse and contradictory as usual, so feel free to ignore me on that.

  3. Maybe Obama meant we’re all in the same hole, and the Wall Street bonuses are making it bigger.

    Maybe?
    That is certainly what he meant.

    Either way, though, if you’re still in the hole, filling it up is not a good idea, although it may be an apt metaphor for the president’s “stimulus” plan.

    Nick explains it well enough.

    Maybe Jacob needs to learn this method to get himself out of the logic holes he so often finds himself in.

  4. Mayor Quimby: How do we get out?

    Homer: We’ll dig our way out!

    *sound of shovels hitting earth*

    Selma: No, no. Dig up, stupid!

  5. Actually, digging yourself out of a hole is the only way. You’d displace dirt from one side in order to create a series of steps or a ramp of some kind. As the ramp rose in height, you’d displace dirt from a different area. If the soil is loose, you’d displace it forward from you in order to create a sloped “tunnel” of sorts; otherwise, you’d displace it from the sides in order to increase the ramp’s height.

    In the worst case, you’d displace it from the floor, walk up and deposit it at the top of the ramp, and repeat.

    The preceding assumes that one can in fact dig and that the cavity is not made of rock or a similar substance.

    For more thinking Reason isn’t capable of, click my name’s link. Maybe Reason could do some real reporting for a change – and succeed where I’ve so far failed – and actually get NY’s new senator to confirm or deny a recent media report.

  6. First of all, have you ever tried to dig yourself out of a hole? Barring a trip through the center of the Earth, this is not a workable solution.

    Well, if you dig into the side wall of the hole, I imagine you could dig a channel or upwardly-angled tunnel that could get you out.

    I’m not saying I agree with this insane stimulus plan, but as far as analogies go…

  7. This (w)hole thing is more like, “We’re trapped down here; we need to get somebody to pour shit on top of us until the hole fills up, and we can swim to the surface.”

  8. How are the Wall Street bonuses, hole-wise, any worse than the 816 billion dollar, ocean-sized crater that we’re about to blow out of the earth’s crust?

  9. Oh, L-Dub, will you never learn? You don’t dig yourself out anything. That’s why God invented Mexicans.

  10. I have a cunning plan. Instead of filling the hole with metaphorical dirt or liquid, how about we simply lower a rope?

  11. I have a cunning plan. Instead of filling the hole with metaphorical dirt or liquid, how about we simply lower a rope?

    Fool! There’s no such thing as rope! When will you idiot libertarians learn? Rope is a fantasy.

  12. “Then one day she meets this John Holmes motherfucker and it’s like, whoa baby, I mean this cat is like Charles Bronson in the ‘Great Escape’, he’s digging tunnels.”

  13. Well, if there’s no rope, what about a jetpack? Surely shovels and dump trucks are not our only options!

  14. Fuck stupid metaphors. But Obama isn’t clear whether he’s for the dig-out technique or the fill up approach.

  15. Well, if there’s no rope, what about a jetpack?

    “Die Jetpacks… ist das Opium des Volkes”

  16. Toby Wong. Charlie fucking Chan.

  17. Solana,

    What, you don’t believe in jetpacks? I’ll have you know that I’ve seen them in action. On TV, anyway.

  18. The trouble with using metaphors is that people start to think that good ways to get out of a hole actually have anything to do with the economy.

  19. “I have a cunning plan. Instead of filling the hole with metaphorical dirt or liquid, how about we simply lower a rope?”

    They outlawed hemp. Here’s a shovel.

  20. The American people understand that we’ve got a big hole that we’ve got to dig ourselves out of

    Who is “we”, kemosabe? As far as I am concerned, the biggest hole “we” have to dig ourselves out of is the mountain of government debt we have racked up. Some number approaching 20% of federal spending goes toward servicing the debt, and we issue more debt to service that debt. We’re approaching the second-largest debt-to-GDP ratio we have ever had, and adding another trillion to that debt is crazy talk.

  21. The proper hole-related image is that politcians like Obama who think government redistribution improves the economy have their heads stuck up their own rear-hole.

  22. What if we simply accept that we live in a hole and make the most of it? In fact, why not dig a much bigger hole and live in it in sin with Jenny Agutter. And Carousel?

  23. Wrong, fuckasses. When you’re stuck in three holes, you build a raft out of dead legionnaires and float to Greece. Look how the plutonic aether keeps them afloat!

  24. What is a hole but a grave no one has yet committed to?

  25. “Fuck stupid metaphors. But Obama isn’t clear whether he’s for the dig-out technique or the fill up approach.”

    Whenever I hear a black man talkin’ about “fillin’ holes” I hid the misses.

  26. What is a hole but a grave no one has yet committed to?

    Do you mean this literally or is this a metaphor for a wife?

  27. I’m with PL: A hole, Jenny Agutter from Equus, and some trimmers.

    Link is quite NSFW.

  28. TAO,

    Yes.

  29. No trimmers! I appreciate more wild and prodigious undergrowth.

  30. You can do what you want with your Jenny Agutter.

  31. Who is “we”, kemosabe? As far as I am concerned, the biggest hole “we” have to dig ourselves out of is the mountain of government debt we have racked up. Some number approaching 20% of federal spending goes toward servicing the debt, and we issue more debt to service that debt. We’re approaching the second-largest debt-to-GDP ratio we have ever had, and adding another trillion to that debt is crazy talk.

    In a meeting I was in today, we saw the growth of debt as a % of GDP. Government debt was the smallest, it went from 37% of GDP to 56%. Households went from 48% to 97% and corporations went 70% to 194%(!). So by we, he means we. The American economy is highly overleveraged. Total debt by Americans went from 155% to 346% of GDP in less than 30 years. IOW, government debt is one of the lesser debt issues in the US.

  32. Nick

    f we’re going to fill these holes, the recipients should stop shoveling but we should only help them incrementally, not by backing up the dump truck.

    Why should we help the people who got themselves into the hole at all? That is, why should we reward the people who have behaved irresponsibly? Wouldn’t this simply encourage them to simply continue behaving “badly” e.g. in the way that eventually nets them taxpayer money?

  33. NM,

    Maybe Obama meant we’re all in the same hole, and the Wall Street bonuses are making it bigger.

    Maybe?
    That is certainly what he meant.

    So what? The wall street bonuses are a trivial, nearly irrelavant sum in comparison to the public money to be used to “dig them/us out”.

  34. Ive been in three holes at once, but she complained.

  35. The Angry Optimist | February 2, 2009, 4:54pm | #
    No trimmers! I appreciate more wild and prodigious undergrowth.

    Ugh. not for me. Brazilians only please.

  36. Matthew,

    What’re ya from the Anti Nowhere League or something?

    http://www.plyrics.com/lyrics/antinowhereleague/sowhat.html

  37. Howz about if Obama puts a cap on speech- and consulting-work income greedy politician-insiders like dear Mr Daschle get?

    I admired mr Daschle that brief moment he was a tax-evader. btw

  38. Perhaps he means that digging holes then filling them will describe the kind of jobs that he will create.

  39. Print money. Throw money into hole. Repeat until hole is filled.

  40. Ugh. not for me. Brazilians only please.

    Gross. I like my women to be women, not have the appearance of 11-year-old girls, thankyouverymuch.

  41. THE URKOBOLD ESCHEWS BRAZILIAN, PREFERRING HIS WOMEN TO SPORT A VEGAN* LOOK.

    * THE URKOBOLD ONLY DECIDED THIS TODAY, WHEN HE LEARNED ABOUT THE PORN COMPANY CALLED PETA.

  42. Jenny Agutter?

    The underage naked chick from Walkabout?
    Seriously check out the Criterion release with the extra naked extra underage footage left out of the cinematic release. She is an old skank by the time Equus was filmed.

  43. When your digging you also need an airpump for the Pookas and Fygars. (ht wikipedia)

  44. NM

    Heh heh. Me like.

  45. The Angry Optimist | February 2, 2009, 5:55pm | #
    Ugh. not for me. Brazilians only please.

    Gross. I like my women to be women, not have the appearance of 11-year-old girls, thankyouverymuch.

    It’s not about seeking youth (especially inappropriately so). I like em curvy. But being trimmed closely indicates an abiding interest in recreational sex. My statistically significant sample size sez two thumbs up.

    Urkobold? – I could excuse more than a few “stragglers” for those those girlies…

  46. first of all, it was Roy Rogers that originally said that phrase.
    secondly, you brits really should leave our sayying alone. sorry but it just shows how you have no understanding of us.

  47. Reckless behavior? I wonder how Obama describes a increase in discretionary spending of over 100%?

    Why his balls are almost as big as his wifes’.

  48. The guy is starting to sound like Bush.

  49. Stimulus is digging a new hole to pack all the dirt from your previous hole.

  50. This Jacob Sullum guy seems to be illiterate.

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