Simple Solutions and Complex Problems

[Orignally Posted on Campaign Blog on April 25]

The financial problems of the Commonwealth, and of the nation, are serious and significant. They arise from a complex set of issues, from tax policy and the changing nature of manufacturing, to competition from China and globalization. Yet some people see the solution is simplistic terms.          

Representative Stan Lee said “You can’t spend your way out of a recession. You can’t tax yourself to prosperity. You can’t borrow your way out of debt.”

With one simple sentence, Lee rejects one hundred years of evidence that Keynesian economics works. This nation only recovered from the Great Depression because of World War Two. The Great Depression ended because of government spending. Since the Second World War there have been recessions around the world, and nations have tried many possible solutions. Japan and Argentina tried cuts to government to end their major recessions, and those nations are still weekend. In Japan the 1990’s are known as the lost decade. Sweden spent its way out of a financial collapse in the late 1990’s, and the recession lasted less than a year. History teaches that done right, a nation can spend its way out of a recession.

With another simple sentence, Lee shows that he has never even contemplated the world beyond this nation’s borders. Why, for example, do Scandinavian countries have high standards of living (read a rich population) when they have high taxes, while South American countries have low standards of living when they have low tax rates? Until the 1960’s, the standard of living in Argentina, Venezuela, Chile, and Brazil was comparable to the standard of living of most of Europe.     

I know that many conservatives will say that they don’t want to be like Europe. That’s fine. But I don’t want to be like Brazil. And when I hear them talk about their ideal tax and regulatory schemes I think of Brazil: vastly rich and lightly taxed small upper class and teaming slums of the poor.

Finally, Mr. Lee says you can’t borrow your way out of debt. That is probably news to many businesses that routinely borrow money to invest in new technology or facilities all in an attempt to increase their revenue. I often hear conservatives say we should operate government more like a business, but then I hear things like Mr. Lee’s statement, and I wonder if they have any concept of what business really does.

We are faced with many complex problems. We will have a hard time solving these problems if we are so constrained by clichés and sound bites that we can’t think.      

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