Guest Columnists

Politics Distracts From the Economy

by William J. Byron, S.J.

LONG AGO, sitting in an Economics 101 class at St. Louis University, it occurred to me that “to move is to produce.”  What it costs to move freight by rail or highway; the fares paid on airlines, trains, buses, subways and taxis; all the dollars spent on getting products and people from one place to another in any economy constitute a contribution to the gross domestic product, one of our measures of economic activity.
When economic activity is down, as is the case in the United States right now, it might be wise to see what can be done to enhance motion to increase production.
One way to boost the national economic activity – in addition to increasing production of goods and services – is to get more motion on our rails and highways, through our tunnels, across our bridges, on our waterways and in our skies.
To move is to produce!
In these fragile (some might say tense) economic times, there is a tendency to blame everything on “government.”  We tend to identify politics with government and forget that government is necessary to provide national security, to regulate (and thus maintain) competition in the marketplace, to promote health and safety along with the provision of education and social services.
Once elected, politicians take positions in government where, if they permit it to happen, politicking can impede the governance process.
But they were not elected to “politick”; they were elected to govern.
They were not elected to engage in endless debate; they were elected to decide at the conclusion of thoughtful debate.
Through last spring and into the summer, we saw a lot of politicking as the deadline drew near for raising the national debt limit.  The politicking was not helpful.  Indeed, it was a distraction from what government should have been doing, through fiscal and monetary policy, to get the economy moving again – encouraging innovation and job creation.
It is regrettable that “tax and spend” has become an expression of condemnation when, in fact, it is the responsibility of government to tax, responsibly, of course, and to spend, prudently and wisely, of course, to allow government to function.
Flat-out refusals to increase taxes are as irresponsible as would be mindless pouring of federal dollars into carelessly chosen projects.
Debt, of itself, is not a burden on a nation. But it must be managed well, and history proves that debt can be managed.
The United States is at a point in its history where its national debt must be managed well.
Standard & Poor’s reminded us that we can and must do better. But even that warning is not saying that we must not spend, nor is it saying that we should never borrow in order to spend.
Policymakers should take a look at the need that the country has right now for public spending on the infrastructure to improve and expand its entire transportation network. That spending will create jobs when jobs are sorely needed.  It will result in improved infrastructure that will, in turn, support improved movement in an economy where to move is to produce.
Meanwhile, ideological sloganeering should simply cease and make room for the encouragement of entrepreneurial ideas to find the needed capital.
Corporations should stop complaining about “government” (when they should quite properly be complaining about irresponsible “politicking”) and pull some accumulated profits out of their mattresses to take some risks and start hiring again.
Many of the nation’s major problems right now would be solved by a full-employment economy.[hr] Father Byron is university professor of business and society at St. Joseph’s University, Philadelphia, and the former president of The Catholic University, Washington, D.C.