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Archive for October 12th, 2012

I’ve explained on many occasions that Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal was bad news for the economy. And the same can be said of Herbert Hoover’s policies, since he also expanded the burden of federal spending, raised tax rates, and increased government intervention.

So when I was specifically asked to take part in a symposium on Barack Obama, Franklin Roosevelt, and the New Deal, I quickly said yes.

I was asked to respond to this question: “Was that an FDR-Sized Stimulus?” Here’s some of what I wrote.

President Obama probably wants to be another FDR, and his policies share an ideological kinship with those that were imposed during the New Deal. But there’s really no comparing the 1930s and today. And that’s a good thing. As explained by Walter Williams and Thomas Sowell, President Roosevelt’s policies are increasingly understood to have had a negative impact on the American economy. …what should have been a routine or even serious recession became the Great Depression.

In other words, my assessment is that Obama is a Mini-Me version of FDR, which is a lot better (or, to be more accurate, less worse) than the real thing.

To be sure, Obama wants higher tax rates, and he has expanded government control over the economy. And the main achievement of his first year was the so-called stimulus, which was based on the same Keynesian theory that a nation can become richer by switching money from one pocket to another. …Obama did get his health plan through Congress, but its costs, fortunately, pale in comparison to Social Security and its $30 trillion long-run deficit. And the Dodd-Frank bailout bill is peanuts compared to all the intervention of Roosevelt’s New Deal. In other words, Obama’s policies have nudged the nation in the wrong direction and slowed economic growth. FDR, by contrast, dramatically expanded the burden of government and managed to keep us in a depression for a decade. So thank goodness Barack Obama is no Franklin Roosevelt.

The last sentence of the excerpt is a perfect summary of my remarks. I think Obama’s policies have been bad for the economy, but he has done far less damage than FDR because his policy mistakes have been much smaller.

“Hey, don’t sell me short. Just wait to see how much havoc I can wreak if reelected!”

Moreover, Obama has never proposed anything as crazy as FDR’s “Economic Bill of Rights.” As I pointed out in my article, this “would have created a massive entitlement state—putting America on a path to becoming a failed European welfare state a couple of decades before European governments made the same mistake.”

On the other hand, subsequent presidents did create that massive entitlement state and Obama added another straw to the camel’s back with Obamacare.

And he is rigidly opposed to the entitlement reforms that would save America from becoming another Greece.

So maybe I didn’t give him enough credit for being as bad as FDR.

P.S. Here’s some 1930s economic humor, and it still applies today. And I also found this cartoon online.

And here’s a good Mini-Me image involving Jimmy Carter. I wasn’t able to find one of Obama and FDR.

If anybody has the skill to create such an image, please send it my way.

P.P.S. The symposium also features an excellent contribution from Professor Lee Ohanian of UCLA.

And from the left, it’s interesting to see that Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research basically agrees with me.

But only in the sense that he also says Obama is a junior-sized version of FDR. Dean actually thinks Obama should have embraced his inner-FDR and wasted even more money on an even bigger so-called stimulus.

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This election season has seen lots of talk (and demagoguery) about whether investors, entrepreneurs, and small business owners should be hit with class-warfare tax policy.

And there’s also been lots of sturm and drang about the best way of averting bankruptcy for Medicare, which is the federal government’s health care program for the elderly.

But there’s been surprisingly little discussion so far about the issue of Medicaid, which is the federal government’s health program for poor people.

I’m not prone to optimism, but I can’t help but wonder if this is because even statists grudgingly accept that the program needs to be reformed.

If so, the right approach is block-granting the program back to the states. Here’s some of what Paul Howard and Russell Sykes had to say about the issue in the Wall Street Journal.

Medicaid, America’s safety-net program for more than 62 million low-income uninsured Americans, is broken. It’s broken at the state level, where program costs are swamping state budgets. It’s broken for federal taxpayers, as Medicaid waste, fraud and abuse drain tens of billions of dollars from federal coffers every year. …The best hope for Medicaid reforms that can improve care for low-income enrollees, reduce fraud, and put the program on a sustainable trajectory is to cap federal spending to the states by using block grants. Block grants would offer states a predictable source of federal funding in return for broad state flexibility in Medicaid administration, benefits and copays.

Howard and Sykes explain that the federalism approach already has been tried with welfare reform, which was very successful.

We know that well-designed block grants can work and attract bipartisan support. The best example is the successful 1996 Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program for welfare reform, which helped move millions of women and children out of poverty and into the workforce. Critics of Medicaid block grants argue that they would leave insufficient funds to cover new state expenses, creating a “race to the bottom” as states slashed funding on services for the poor. But such objections were also raised about block-granting welfare, and they turned out to be wrong.

They also reveal some very useful and interesting information about a test program in Rhode Island that shows the benefits of shifting health care decisions to the state level.

In 2009, Rhode Island accepted a five-year cap on combined state and federal Medicaid spending as part of a waiver from the federal government. ..To date, Rhode Island projects that by various new measures—focusing on community-based care that keeps seniors out of expensive nursing homes, for instance, and medical supervision that can keep children and adults out of emergency rooms—the state has saved $100 million. The flexibility to plan care has also helped reduce its projected Medicaid spending rate to 3% from 8% annually.

It’s worth noting, by the way, that Rhode Island is a very left-leaning state. Indeed, one of the reasons why I’m semi-optimistic about Medicaid reform is that governors and state legislatures – regardless of partisan affiliation – know that the current Medicaid system is unsustainable.

For more information, here’s my video explaining why block grants and federalism are the right way of dealing with Medicaid.

Since I’m not used to being optimistic, let me also give you a nightmare scenario for how this issue could evolve. My greatest fear is that a future president (perhaps Romney!) will decide to impose a value-added tax. In normal circumstances, that might upset state politicians since it would complicate their efforts to impose sales taxes.

But if a future President promised to have the federal government take over 100 percent of Medicaid financing, I suspect state politicians would jump at the trade.

So we would get the worst of all worlds. A giant new tax and more centralization.

P.S. Here’s the full three-part video series on entitlement reform.

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