Monday, April 13, 2009

Therapeutic Spending

Dreher often mentions the "therapeutic society." Here Samuelson identifies Obama's "therapeutic spending."

It ain't good.

...Since the dawn of the Industrial Age, this has been simple: produce more with less. ("Productivity," in economic jargon.) Mass markets developed for clothes, cars, computers and much more because declining costs expanded production. Living standards rose. By contrast, the logic of the "post-material economy" is just the opposite: spend more and get less.

...What defines the "post-material economy" is a growing willingness to sacrifice money income for psychic income -- "feeling good." Some people may gladly pay higher energy prices if they think they're "saving the planet" from global warming. Some may accept higher taxes if they think they're improving the health or education of the poor. Unfortunately, these psychic benefits may be based on fantasies. What if U.S. cuts in greenhouse gases are offset by Chinese increases? What if more health insurance produces only modest gains in people's health?

To that last question, we might suggest another: what if more health insurance produces NO gains in (perceived) health? In other words, we are dealing with marginal gains, if any...

Obama and his allies have glossed over these questions. They've left the impression that somehow magical technological breakthroughs will produce clean energy that is also cheap. Perhaps that will happen; it hasn't yet. They've talked so often about the need to control wasteful health spending that they've implied they've actually found a way of doing so. Perhaps they will, but they haven't yet.

...and they have persuaded themselves that Illuminated Government Spending is superior to Other Peoples' Spending. Now and then, that happens. NASA has some fine examples, as does DARPA.

But in general, traditional industrial R&D has produced far more in measurable results than has Gummint spending.

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