-- Second of two parts --
After assaulting the proposed "economic stimulus plan" last week in this
column, I went looking for an economic stimulus plan of my own.
Of course, one can criticize a plan without having an alternative plan
There are so many more plans, on so many subjects, than there is time to
acquire enough expertise to address all of them. Critics play a valuable
role just by opposing bad ideas, encouraging those who present them to
return to the drawing board. In a democracy, citizens have an obligation
to at least know what they don't want, and hope they will recognize the
better idea when they finally see it.
All taxpayers have a right to support tax limitation, knowing what they
can afford and should reasonably be expected to pay for the services
they consider essential. Before opposing a tax increase, they don't have
to tell government where it should cut; that's the job of the managers
we elect or appoint.
It does behoove us not to be unreasonable when making demands for better
government. We should get what we pay for, yet not be making our own
list of additional, unaffordable entitlements. And it is our job to pay
attention during elections and vote as wisely as we can.
Citizens shouldn't be too humble, either. Though we aren't required to
have our own plans, many of us are — really — as smart as some of the
"experts," with perhaps a tad more common sense. Economics is one area
where we should remember this — because the most famous economists
disagree on both the basic theories and the details for action. You can
take the time to study them, then choose, or you can trust your own
I learned the basics from my father when he put my first-year college
money in a checkbook and told me when it was gone, there wouldn't be any
more until the next year. Fortunately, I dated a lot, so guys fed me
when I was hungry that spring after I bought a new bathing suit for the
A history teacher tried to explain the gold standard, but I had a mental
block at the time. I do, however, "get" that a government can't just
print unlimited dollar bills as a solution to not having enough money to
spend and am not surprised that gold is now heading toward $1,000 an
When I was working on Proposition 2½, I was assisted by one very
sensible economist friend. Heinz Muehlmann is, literally, an Austrian
economist, from what is called the Austrian school of economics, which
generally recommends small government, protection of private property
and support for individualism in general. This fit both my own Aquarian
tendencies and what I learned from my dad.
During the '80s, my live-in friend John shared books by Austrian
economists Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises, and the American,
Murray Rothbard; I also discovered Milton Friedman, Thomas Sowell and
Arthur Laffer. For balance, I read some Karl Marx and Keynesian stuff,
enough to know that communism and too much deficit spending didn't make
economic sense to me.
I have to admit, though, that the point made by Keynesian John Kenneth
Galbraith that the free market is distorted by big business, big labor
and an activist government is making more sense by the minute. I still
have a clear idea of what a real free market should look like, though,
and suspect that eventually its reality kicks those who interfere with
it in the behind.
So one way or another, I got an informal education in economics, enough
to know when I'm being sold a bill of unaffordable goods by politicians
who are trying to buy votes with taxes and debt.
But here is the point of this column: You don't have to read any of
those economists, and you shouldn't be overly impressed either with
those who have or the experts themselves. Humility is not a traditional
American virtue. Our founding fathers were counting on the common sense
of "the ordinary man" — like my father.
In our personal lives, regardless of how we act, we know that a high
level of credit-card debt is not advisable, and that we shouldn't spend
more than we have or borrow more than we can repay. We know that taking
from Peter to pay Paul, without Peter's consent, isn't right. We know
that bailing our kids out of their mistakes ensures that they won't grow
up to become responsible adults. And by the time we are my age, we have
figured out that the government doesn't know enough to run a national
economy — it can barely run itself.
So here is my own economic stimulus plan: Forget about it. By the time
the government combines its lack of common sense with the political
motives of politicians and the greed of the special interest groups they
serve, it will only get in the way of real economic recovery — if such a
thing, after years of economic foolishness, is still possible. I hope,
however, for my grandchildren's sake, that it is.
Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens
for Limited Taxation. Her column appears weekly in the Salem News and
Eagle Tribune, and often in the Newburyport Times, Gloucester Times, and
Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the
Providence (RI) Journal and other newspapers.