09 June 2009

Henninger: Slim Obama's 'Fat Uncle Sam'

From Daniel Henninger's column in last Thursday WSJ:
So far Mr. Obama has used his personally exciting presidency for initiatives that are spending public money on a scale not seen since ancient Egypt. Besides Obama Motors ($60 billion to $100 billion), there is Obama-Care for health insurance ($1.2 trillion over 10 years), the stimulus ($800 billion), a global-warming offensive called cap and trade that hopes to siphon hundreds of billions of dollars from the economy, and a fiscal year 2010 budget of $3.59 trillion. Out of these mists of federal "investment" they promise five million "green collar jobs." Only public-sector lifers could believe, or assert, anything so fantastic.

Then there is the never-ending march of the financial-rescue armies -- TARP, TALF, PIPP, EESA. The Federal Reserve's balance sheet stands at some $2 trillion and growing. Last week Treasury floated the possibility of a single financial regulator for the entire banking system.

All this is the Obama government's idea of innovation. It is all public sector because all any of them know is public sector.

Without exception, the Obama people with responsibility for the private economy come from a lifetime in politics, public administration or academia.

Besides Mr. Obama himself, the list includes Tim Geithner, Larry Summers, Peter Orszag, EPA's Lisa Jackson (16 years with EPA), Commerce's Gary Locke (zero private experience), or Transportation's Ray LaHood (14 years in the House). The bio for Agriculture's Tom Vilsack says he "has served in the public sector at nearly every level of government." How can the private sector -- especially the world of risk capital, sweat equity and start-ups -- be anything but an abstraction for this group?

Many of Mr. Obama's supporters surely thought this young, dynamic generation of public leaders would elevate the hip, cutting edge of the U.S. economy -- nanotechnology, genomics, robotics, even health and medicine technology. Instead, we've gotten the Old Economy on dialysis. General Motors has been commanded to restart aging UAW factories to output product on behalf of the administration's hybrid-car obsession. Where's the New Economy in any of this?

Or ObamaCare. How will a build-out of Medicare (b. 1965) to cover everyone and costing $1.2 trillion over 10 years not kill innovation in medical and health technology by siphoning away growth capital and its potential financial rewards?

All of this seems so out of sync with the persona and promise Barack Obama conveyed in the campaign. A lot of his Web-based supporters probably thought Mr. Obama was going to be about promoting young guns with new ideas seeking risk capital for the next big thing. Instead, it looks as if the Obama years will be about managing soft landings for mature industries and old unions in the American autumn.

If you have tips, questions, comments or suggestions, email me at lybberty@gmail.com.