The ‘Investment’ Euphemism
It doesn’t help to call spending something different.
Pres. Barack Obama hopes to be saved by a euphemism.
He is wagering on the power of the word “investment.” It sounds so market-oriented and cutting-edge in contrast to its more pedestrian, politically fraught synonym, “spending,” especially the toxic “deficit spending” that, to this point, has defined Obama’s presidency.
The focus on “investment” is nothing new. Obama already had leaned heavily on one of the hoariest Democratic tropes. When he signed the stimulus bill in February 2009, he used the word “invest” or “investment” 15 times in a 2,000-word speech. A casual listener might have been hard-pressed to understand that any new government spending was involved at all, what with all the “critical investments,” including “the largest new investment in our nation’s infrastructure since Eisenhower” and “the largest investment in education in our nation’s history.”
In a June 2010 speech at Carnegie Mellon University on his vision of a “new foundation” for the economy, Obama uttered the word “invest” or “investment” about two dozen times. If he weren’t president, he might be working in a boiler room somewhere, touting a dubious stock. Former Bush official and Hoover Institution fellow Keith Hennessey substituted “government spending” for “investment,” getting this Obama paragraph:
It’s a foundation based on government spending on our people and their future; government spending on the skills and education we need to compete; government spending on a 21st-century infrastructure for America, from high-speed railroads to high-speed Internet; government spending on research and technology, like clean energy, that can lead to new jobs and new exports and new industries...
Obama isn’t changing his economic philosophy. He’s not even dressing it up with a new word. It’s the same old spending, although presumably not quite as reckless as the first bout. His administration is perpetually stuck on stimulus
The government is not Warren Buffett. An ungainly, politically driven behemoth, it is not a good judge of value, and it almost never cuts its losses. We have “invested” untold billions in federal dollars in education since the 1970s, and test scores have barely budged. We have been subsidizing alternative energy for just as long, and have only created a hideously inefficient green-energy sector. We have allowed transportation spending to be warped by gross congressional politics (earmarks and logrolling) and silly fads (light and high-speed rail).
Modesty is in order. The federal government can invest at the margins, in basic research and the like, and can hope that some of its activities — the space program and defense, for instance — spin off useful technologies. Otherwise, its role is setting the predicate for the private investment that drives innovation and ultimately job growth. That means cutting spending and regulation, reforming the tax code, embracing free trade, and providing a reliable environment for commerce.
In other words, controlling government “investment” and other Washington excesses.