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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Oracle Speaks

President Obama’s economic advisor and friend Warren Buffett had an interesting op-ed in yesterday’s New York Times. In it, he echoed Senator Gregg’s “Banana Republic” concerns and warned that our current crop of elected officials, often more concerned with reelection over good government, may not be best suited to get us out of this mess:
Slowing [the Treasury’s printing presses] down will require extraordinary political will. With government expenditures now running 185 percent of receipts, truly major changes in both taxes and outlays will be required. A revived economy can’t come close to bridging that sort of gap.

Legislators will correctly perceive that either raising taxes or cutting expenditures will threaten their re-election. To avoid this fate, they can opt for high rates of inflation, which never require a recorded vote and cannot be attributed to a specific action that any elected official takes. In fact, John Maynard Keynes long ago laid out a road map for political survival amid an economic disaster of just this sort: “By a continuing process of inflation, governments can confiscate, secretly and unobserved, an important part of the wealth of their citizens.... The process engages all the hidden forces of economic law on the side of destruction, and does it in a manner which not one man in a million is able to diagnose.”

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