Tax and Spend. Or Just Spend

by Kieran Healy on September 16, 2005

About a year and a half ago, the White House floated the “moondoggle”: Remember that? Casting about for some legacy or other, Karl Rove came up with the idea of a permanent base on the moon. (And “a pony”: At the time I wondered whether the initiative would be funded by a series of aggressive tax cuts. After the President’s speech yesterday, it’s clear that while the moon is no more (so to speak), the “payment plan for Katrina-cleanup”: is the same. “You bet it’s going to cost money,” the President said, “… It’s going to cost whatever it costs.” Reported estimates are that it’s going to cost at least as much as the War in Iraq has so far.

Meanwhile, White House economic adviser Allan Hubbard said the administration still plans to make the Bush tax cuts permanent, while at the same time “cutting the deficit in half by 2009.”: The White House Press Corps laughed roundly at this statement. No, of course they didn’t. The President also proposed to create a “Gulf Opportunity Zone”:, which would provide subsidies to business, because “he said”:, “It is entrepreneurship that creates jobs and opportunity … and we will take the side of entrepreneurs as they lead the economic revival of the Gulf region.” This reminds me of a comment I heard the economist “Geoff Brennan”: make during a conversation about alternative forms of energy. Someone suggested that entrepreneurs should lead the way in this area, and Geoff agreed. They then said the government should maybe offer some subsidies or assistance to them as part of some program. “I think you have a different concept of entrepreneur from me,” says Geoff. As “Max says”:

bq. If the city is cleaned up, its infrastructure restored, and flood protection established, there should be no need for subsidies to make business development flourish. On the other hand, individuals will need compensation to get on their feet again, including access to credit for business start-ups. Such access would not be a subsidy if it plugged preexisting holes in the market — the sort of red-lining that prevents solvent, lower-income people, especially minorities, from getting the loans they need and can repay to buy housing and start businesses.

And I’m not sure whether to hope he’s right about this or fear that he is right about this:

bq. However messy the use of money becomes in the hands of the Bushists, I maintain that this is a watershed moment for the limited-government movement. What we have in this Administration is an unwholesome mixture — the term toxic soup comes to mind — of Christian fundy prejudice (towards non-Christians, science, and the Enlightenment), Wilsonian jingoism, and blind anti-tax sentiment. Big, stupid government is all over your bedroom and your public schools, driving your kids further into debt, rattling an insubstantial sabre at a legion of emboldened international miscreants. These people will be the death of us all.

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Crooked Timber » » Moondoggle Returns
09.19.05 at 12:52 pm



P O'Neill 09.16.05 at 10:16 pm

And the only actual hint of a specific spending cut to offset so far is foreign aid!


Henry 09.16.05 at 10:27 pm

I’ve been hearing from people with contacts in the space community that the moondoggle is far from dead …


bob mcmanus 09.16.05 at 10:40 pm

“And I’m not sure whether to hope he’s right about this or fear that he is right about this:”

Be afraid. Be very afraid.


bob mcmanus 09.16.05 at 10:41 pm

“And I’m not sure whether to hope he’s right about this or fear that he is right about this”

Be afraid. Be very afraid.


bad Jim 09.16.05 at 11:28 pm

The moondoggle is very much alive, I fear.

I don’t see any contradiction between subsidies and entrepreneurship. A subsidy is just another opportunity to be exploited. Whether subsidies or entrepreneurs are the best way to accomplish the desired result, or even likely to achieve it, is another question.


Vance Maverick 09.17.05 at 1:03 am

Tangentially, I think Max may be the best writer in the blogosphere. He’s not copious or smooth, but reading him at his best is like plugging into a live current of unpredictable thought.


abb1 09.17.05 at 3:35 am

I’ll second what Vance said, except that this may not be the quality of a ‘writer’, but rather of an ‘intellectual’.


KV 09.17.05 at 4:36 am

The really striking thing about this is how it’s been Republicans, not Democrats that have squashed the limited government movement. They never really did much with it anyway, and now they’re literally destroying it. It’s really rather striking to watch. Limited government Republicans, while having loyalties to some principles, believe that supporting Bush is the only way to stop the moral collapse of our country, so he’s got them by the … well, you know.

By the way, I recommend to everyone reading Tyler Cowen’s article of the Marshall Plan that’s archived at his site. It’s really marvelous. Did you know that most Marshall Plan funding went to Britain? Did you also know that it’s recovery was the slowest?


Matt Daws 09.17.05 at 6:36 am

“The emphasis is on achieving goals rather than elegance,” said Logsdon, who along with other members of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board urged NASA to move beyond the risky, aging shuttles as soon as possible.

“It has several elements to it. One is to say that the people who did Apollo were pretty smart,” Logsdon said Friday. Depending on advanced, unproven technology would slow everything down and raise the costs, which will be high anyway, he noted.

From the Yahoo! story Bad Jim posted. That’s depressing: going to the moon again, for the sake of going to the moon is pointless. Doing it in the hope of generating lots of new, exciting space-flight technologies is a nice idea. Naively I thought the latter was the plan. Well, actually, naively, I thought Bush was having a laugh, and that Nasa would be allowed to sit on the idea for a few years, and then retire it quietly.

So, if the NO cleanup follows a similar pattern, we can expect a load of money being spent (but not quite enough money, mind) to get a botched job done to satisfy some purely political goal.


Aidan Maconachy 09.17.05 at 10:31 am

“These people will be the death of us all?” – Kieran

Maybe if Clinton hadn’t been so busy diddling interns and playing the White House as Celebrity Central, “these people” would have been spared the onerous task of doing the hard stuff that Billy boy strenously avoided.

Clinton was the first “black” President so-called and a sax playing jazz lover to boot. The levee hazard in New Orleans was well known during his tenure and nonetheless wonder boy repeatedly slashed congressional allocations for the projects AND … AND … recommendations of spending by the Army Corps of Engineers.

There are LOTS of areas in which Clinton was negligent. He wanted primarily to party and preside over boom times, and avoided getting involved in potentially messy matters. He flew blind on the Al Qaeda threat and resorted to short term, ineffectual measures. When the Cole was bombed Clinton hummed and hawed, claiming that it was hard to say who done it. Yeah right!! Then counter terrorism tzar, Dick Clarke, was on his knees calling for hits on known terrorist camps in Afghanistan that had been fingered as the problem, and he was overruled. Opening a front with Al Qaeda meant all kinds of hassle and inconvenience that would have cut into partying time.

Oh yeah, magic Bill also passed on bringing in Osama bin Laden … almost forget that minor indiscertion.

So when you refer to “these people” in the Bush administration, you may want to reflect on what they inherited also.


Aidan Maconachy 09.17.05 at 10:58 am

Just a note to any ex-Northern Ireland boyos who frequent this space. If you’re looking for some great craic go to Slugger O’Toole … you will get a lot of current opinion there right from the horse’s mouth and , er … hind quarters also.


Dæn 09.17.05 at 11:53 am

Whoa, Max beat me by 12 minutes. Great minds, I guess.


winna 09.17.05 at 3:40 pm

It is astonishing how everything is Bill Clinton’s fault.

I have seen many videos of the man, yet I have never once see his hooves leave smoking craters and blights behind him, as some people would have me believe.


Walt Pohl 09.17.05 at 3:48 pm

Poor aiden. Unfortunately for him, we all know the reality, that Clinton alone took the threat from al Queda seriously, that no one else in politics or the media took the threat seriously, that the Republican-led impeachment interfered with his attempts to combat it, that when Clinton ordered two suspected al Queda sites bombed Republicans openly suggested that he was “wagging the dog” to distract from his Republican-manufactured political difficulties, that he explicitly warned the incoming Bush administration of how serious the threat was and left explicit plans for military action to take al Queda out, that Bush ignored the warning in favor of its domestic agenda and its obsession with Iraq. If Al Gore had been President, the Twin Towers would still be standing and Osama bin Laden would be dead. Instead, we got Bush, September 11th, and the stupidest war in American history. You can’t wave the bloody shirt, aiden, when you put the blood there in the first place.


Aidan Maconachy 09.17.05 at 4:49 pm

Walt Pohl … nonsense!!

Quite aside from the non-action after the Cole attack, which many operatives in both the CIA and State Department regarded as paving the way for 9/11, there were many other decisions that the Clinton administration took which helped to set the country up for what was to follow.

After the Khobar Towers attack in Saudi Arabia, Billy went on the box and announced …

“The explosion appears to be the work of terrorists. The cowards who committed this murderous act must not go unpunished. America takes care of its own.”

Yeah right! Forensic investigations revealed that there was a Lebanese source for explosives used in the Khobar attack. Despite evidence that tracked the origins of the attack , Clinton went on auto-pilot and carried on with business-as-usual. He restored diplomatic relations with Lebanon. There was no requirement whatever on the part of Lebanese authorities to act against the perpetrators – let alone compensate US citizens (remember aside from those killed there hundreds wounded in this attack).

After the embassy attacks in Kenya and Tanzania resulting in hundreds of deaths and thousands of wounded, Clinton ordered at attack … on a pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum!! This is an in-joke amongst many Jihad enthusiasts to this day, who view it as weak man’s effort to look tough, while essentially doing nothing. They’re right on the money. Clinton was a straw man and a weak leader when it came to taking assertive action to defend American interests abroad, and he helped to embolden the enemy and give them the will to take the assault into the heart of America.

Larry Johnson – ex of CIA and State Department had this interesting comment to make …

“Clinton was always good about biting his lip, tears welling up in his baggy eyes and talking about, ‘waging a new war on terrorism,’ and yet also during this period he basically cut the heart out of the CIA,”


Walt Pohl 09.17.05 at 6:20 pm

You have failed to refute anything I said, Aidan. No one took al Queda seriously prior to September 11th, except for Bill Clinton and members of his administration. When Clinton ordered that attack on the pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum, the press and the Republican party openly accused him of doing it to distract from Lewinsky. If he had acted more decisively, they would have simply upped the volume on the accusations.

Clinton warned Bush to take al Quada seriously. Bush did not, until it was too late. Clinton left behind plans for military action to take out al Quada, but when Bush was elected, he declined to hand an incoming president a war. He left the option of carrying out the plan to Bush. Bush had nine months to do something about the threat. He did nothing. 3,000 Americans died.


Aidan Maconachy 09.17.05 at 7:22 pm

walt here is my central objection to your thesis.

First of all Clinton was the President of the USA, not a school boy living in fear of the Republican Party. In saying that he didn’t follow through on needed offensive actions because he was worried about Republican objections, you are making him out to be ineffectual and weak – which is precisely my argument. On the foreign front, he was.

Many of his foreign policy decisions were regarded as farcical – not merely by the Republicans – but by the enemy. Clinton became a laughing stock. Not only did he lack the courage to go out and have a real affair with a real woman in real time – but he played around with a young and impressionable intern, toying with cigars and sexy phone chat when he should have been about the nation’s business.

This is merely on a level of personal conduct, and on that level already he had forfeited any fear and respect the enemy may have had, because above all else the Islamic fighter looks for evidence of manhood in an adversary.

You know to find evidence of this man’s inept handling of foreign affairs in this crucial period, you really have to look at detail, because the devil is indeed in the details when it comes to the true facts of Clinton’s bungling.

In the middle of so-called “Monicagate”, Clinton signed something called a Memorandum of Notification which ostensibly permitted U.S. forces and the CIA to take out bin Laden. Now here is the type of absurdity that characterized the pussy footing of this man … while this Memorandum was CLEARLY designed to take bin Laden out … Clinton undertook no provisions to overturn the ban on political assassinations. What this meant in practice was that bin Laden was meant to be killed … BY ACCIDENT! This is typical of Clintonesque obfuscation and double positioning. It speaks volumes about the way in which he hedged his bets and was content to merely pose, rather act. Bin Laden could only be killed “accidentally on purpose”!

To understand the roots of this, you have to understand the psychology of the administration at that time and the weird cognitive dissonance that compelled them to resist force on one hand while posing as brave “New Democrats” on the other.

This impotency is best illustrated by the Clinton reaction to the first World Trade Center attack which occurred just some 39 days into the WJC Presidency. To quote Dick Morris …

“Clinton chose to treat the Trade Center attack as an isolated criminal act, devoid of serious foreign policy or military implications.”

This mindset made it impossible for Clinton to offer a realistic response to the threat that was building toward the culmination of 9/11. He was a man caught in a limbo state, betwixt and between. Afraid to commit, and loathe to withdraw … content to offer tokens of force, which of course the enemy saw through. Sensing this paralysis, Al Qaeda, naturally upped the ante and penetrated American security on the home front with an audacity that I argue they would have lacked, if they had been properly confronted in the field.

Clinton I believe is well aware of the price America has paid for his policies, or lack of.


shinypenny 09.17.05 at 8:38 pm

Shorter Aidan Maconachy: The Clenis is reponsible for EVERYTHING.


mds 09.17.05 at 9:46 pm

Shorter Aidan Maconachy: The Clenis is reponsible for EVERYTHING.

Well, the original post is pointing out how the party of “limited government” is anything but; I suppose it’s only fair that aidan point out that the “personal responsibility” that Republicans repeatedly squeal about is just as false. Because it’s always someone else’s fault.


Maynard Handley 09.17.05 at 10:10 pm

The real point to watch is what happens to the *next* US company China tries to buy up.

As a friend of mine pointed out, the Chinese are acquiring dollars and treasuries in the quite reasonable expectation that at some point, at their convenience, they can convert them into something more tangible. If a few more Unocals convince them this is not so, well the house of cards may collapse sooner than we imagine.


MQ 09.17.05 at 10:48 pm

Ugh. Aidan above shows what the Bush-worshipping Republican party is actually about these days — a bunch of squalling incompetent brats leaving messes everywhere and whining that it’s *SOMEONE ELSE’S FAULT!*. No offense meant to actual, real conservative patriots with integrity.


Aidan Maconachy 09.17.05 at 11:08 pm

I absolutely do not underwrite everything Bush says and does. I don’t know how you managed to extrapolate that assumption from what I said about Clinton.

I posted here looking for dialogue but what is increasingly evident is that as soon as the the partisan note gets struck, debate quickly descends into name calling and caricature.

Someone said recently that left-to-right dialogue is no longer possible in the States. I’m beginning to believe it.


catherine liu 09.18.05 at 12:47 am

While I think that we can legitimately blame Bill Clinton for not successfully passing a national health care bill (which has been disastrous if your a patient, but very profitable if you own an HMO), signing NAFTA (and losing the Democratic working class base as well as compromising commitments to American labor), and having oral intercourse with a White House we can not in all honesty blame him for 9/11 or the Katrina disaster. We cannot blame him for the disgusting state of nepotism and incompetence that is the Bush White House. You may recall that Clinton named a very competent man to head FEMA, James Lee Witt. I was in LA during the 94 earthquake and things were getting done. FEMA was every where.

So let us lay blame where blame is due…and Aidan make arguments that are reasonable if you really want “dialogue.” If not, continue to provoke away!


Aidan Maconachy 09.18.05 at 1:22 am

Last word on this – late here.

Hi Catherine, I’m not blaming Clinton directly for either the Katrina outcome or 9/11 AT ALL! However I am arguing that some of his policies, or lack of, went some way toward creating conditions that contributed to later outcomes in both instances.

Neither incidentally am I lauding Bush as some antidote to Clinton who can stand beyond crticism. The Iraq campaign was dreadfully managed and many stupid mistakes were made.

While I’m on the right on a lot of issues, I’m neither a card carrying Republican, nor a member of the “fundamentalist” Christian brigade. I call it as I see it.


abb1 09.18.05 at 1:37 am

It’s all George Washington’s fault; I hate that guy (is it still legal, to say this?).


Ken Ormes 09.18.05 at 5:02 pm

aiden, I’m perfectly happy with any Administration that just wants to party and preside over boom times, provided that’s what they deliver.

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