LARSON: Obama for the economy

Nothing in Particular

Our campus is almost uniformly supportive of gay marriage and is strongly, if not universally, in favor of a woman’s right to choose. Nonetheless, it’s become almost chic to identify as a “fiscal conservative.”

Identifying as a fiscal conservative allows such Yalies to contrast themselves with idealistic, yet allegedly impractical, liberals. Romney supporters claim that if Obama wins, it’ll be due to his ability to direct voters’ focus from economic issues. Yet the perception that Obama’s economic policies are idealistic or dogmatic is untrue. Whether you’re fiscally liberal, moderate or conservative — basically, if you’re anything short of fiscally insane — you should vote for the president this Tuesday.

One of Gov. Romney’s favorite refrains during this campaign has been that the economy is growing more slowly this year than last year, and that last year it grew more slowly than the year before. It’s a good point — for the president. Two years ago was the last year the economy was fully benefitting from President Obama’s stimulus. Since then, a Republican-controlled House has forced austerity at the federal level, while cash-strapped cities and states have laid off millions of public workers.

The reasons Republicans give for their policies consist of a belief that government cannot stimulate demand in a depressed economy — and that even if such spending could stimulate the economy, we couldn’t afford it. Their beliefs are belied by history, current events and common sense. That Republicans in Congress can claim we cannot afford stimulus, when investors over the last four years have essentially paid the government to take their money and spend it for them, is remarkable.

If we return to the financial crisis of 2008, primarily Democrats provided the votes for an unfair yet totally necessary financial sector bailout. The bailout has given rise to difficult questions of moral hazard, yet anyone who remembers the feeling of chaos — or the precipitous drop in the Dow — when the bailout plan first failed in Congress knows how necessary this stabilizing action was. The relative strength of our financial sector today is one of the Obama administration’s greatest achievements.

During the financial crisis, Republicans stood in the way of what our economy needed. Their fight wasn’t about distributional or fairness issues — we’re all better off for the strong action the federal government took — but rather about a delusional objection to all government involvement in the economy.

Worse yet, in 2011, Republicans in Congress actually manufactured an economic crisis in the form of a totally unnecessary standoff over our nation’s debt ceiling. Their refusal to raise the debt limit went beyond political theater — they carried our nation to the brink of default. To the extent that uncertainty over government action, rather than a lack of consumer demand, is holding back our nation’s recovery, it is an uncertainty created by Republican recklessness.

Congressional Republicans’ abysmal record on the economic crisis could be overlooked if, going forward, Gov. Romney promised us better economic policies than President Obama. He doesn’t. It seems highly implausible that his tax plan won’t add to the deficit, but even if he somehow gets the numbers to work so that the government doesn’t lose any revenue, Romney has ruled out any revenue increases. He’s also ruled out cuts to Medicare providers or to Social Security over the next 10 years, while promising to dramatically increase our military spending and reduce the deficit.

That means the most savage cuts in government spending under a Romney administration would fall on domestic discretionary spending, the category which includes money for science research, infrastructure and education, not to mention government agencies such as FEMA, whose role Hurricane Sandy has made only too clear. In short, Romney would slash government’s ability to perform its basic functions effectively, while neglecting investments in our nation’s physical and human capital and in our development of new technologies and ideas necessary for economic growth.

President Obama’s policy prescriptions are at least as “fiscally conservative” as those of President Nixon. More important than their place on the political spectrum, however, is their firm tether to basic economic realities, a tether the policies of Governor Romney and congressional Republicans lack. I’m voting for President Obama this Tuesday, and I’m voting for him on economic grounds.

Harry Larson is a junior in Jonathan Edwards. His column runs on alternate Fridays. Contact him at harry.larson@yale.edu .

This piece is part of the News’ Friday Forum. Click here to read more.

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