Obama's Irrational-Emotive Approach to Economic Policy


At last night's press conference, President Obama once again warned that failure to immediately pass the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act "could turn a crisis into a catastrophe." But what about "anyone out there who still doesn't believe" that the current economic situation "constitutes a full-blown crisis"? He had an answer for such a person:

If there's anyone out there who still doesn't believe this constitutes a full-blown crisis, I suggest speaking to one of the millions of Americans whose lives have been turned upside down because they don't know where their next paycheck is coming from.

This is a pretty silly thing to say, and not just because Obama pretends the argument is about how bad the economy is, as opposed to whether his plan will make things better. It reminds me of the know-nothing populism voiced by both participants in last October's vice presidential debate:

If you want "a good barometer" for the economy's health, according to Palin, you shouldn't look at statistics or consult economists; you should "go to a kid's soccer game on Saturday, and turn to any parent there on the sideline and ask them, 'How are you feeling about the economy?'" If you want a detailed comparison of McCain's economic, educational, health care, and foreign policies with those of the Bush administration, according to Biden, you shouldn't pick up a newspaper or do research online; you should "walk into Home Depot with me" and "ask anybody in there." This is the sort of populism that insults voters' intelligence while trying to flatter it.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was expressing a similar view when she said that even if the economy is not actually losing 500 million jobs a month, it "feels like 500 million." Not to put too fine a point on it, but such feelings are not a very good measure of how serious the recession is. No matter how many people are currently out of work or will be in the future, if you talk to "Americans whose lives have been turned upside down because they don't know where their next paycheck is coming from," they're going to be pretty upset. And even as Obama pushes an irrational-emotive approach to economic policy, he wants to claim the intellectual high ground by asserting that "economists almost unanimously recognize" the need for a big package of stimulus spending. Harvard economist Greg Mankiw managed to track down a few who don't, and the Cato Institute located some more.

I'll have more on Obama's emotional appeal for his stimulus plan in my column tomorrow.