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Venus on the half-sky

BY BEAU ELLIOT | FEBRUARY 24, 2009 7:29 AM

Idly gazing at Venus on the half-sky, I wonder about the economy. And Republicans. And Roland Burris.

I don’t know why, exactly. Maybe because Venus burns brighter than the economy. But then, these days, Sammy Sosa’s and Mark McGwuire’s tattered legacies burn brighter than the U.S. economy.

(Well, OK, technically, Venus doesn’t burn, it reflects light — details, details. Though, from what I remember about Venus in my brief vacation there, she is much hotter than Earth, and if you stay there too long, you get burned. Of course, you could say the same thing about the housing bubble. Or, before that, the high-tech bubble. Who knew bubbles could be so dangerously hot?)

I don’t know why I think about the economy — it doesn’t do any good, at least in the sense of making the economy better. You might as well think about the weather.

And as I remind myself (this is a trick we Geminis can do, but I don’t recommend it for anyone else), thinking about the weather makes the weather better about as much as thinking about the Red Sox pitching staff makes it better. Then I think about all the hundreds of millions of minutes I’ve thought about the Red Sox pitching staff and how swell those hundreds of millions of moments worked out.

Then I wonder why human beings bother to think at all.

But then Alan Greenspan speaks, and I start thinking about the sinking economy again. You all remember Greenspan, the economic wonder-czar, the emperor of free markets, who ushered our economy through extraordinary good times. (And through the high-tech bubble and the housing bubble, but details, details.)

Recently, Greenspan said, “It may be necessary to temporarily nationalize some banks in order to facilitate a swift and orderly restructuring.”

Yes. The lion of conservative economic thinking brought up the “N” word — well, the “N” word in things economic. (That other “N” word will, one of these days, disappear, and our grandchildren or great-grandchildren or great-great-grandchildren will wonder what all the fuss was about.) (Yeah — I’m a dreamer.)

But when somebody such as Greenspan brings up nationalizing banks, it’s almost as if Russian communists or Chinese communists embraced capitalism. (Oh, wait.)

I don’t pretend to know if nationalizing some of the banks will work or not, but — at the risk of sounding like a socialist like Greenspan — it seems better than propping them up with taxpayer money so that the banks reap the benefits if that works and the taxpayers are on the hook if it doesn’t work.

That’s what Paul Krugman calls “lemon socialism.” And, yeah, I know, Krugman is a liberal columnist for the *New York Times*, but he’s also an economics professor and a winner of the Nobel Prize in the field. So he might know more than most of the rest of us.

And if I recall my ancient history well enough, temporarily nationalizing the banks is what Sweden did in the early ’90s — and it worked. As I understand it, once the banks were stable, Sweden reprivatized the banks.

Oh, I know, Sweden is not the United States; even the Obama administration keeps reminding us of this. Yeah, well, for one thing, Sweden has a health-care system that works for everyone. And almost all educated Swedes can speak more than one language.

But if nationalizing some of the banks worked for Sweden, it can work for us. Swedes aren’t necessarily smarter than we are. It just seems so some days.

And I know — Republicans would howl. Look at the way they caterwauled about the economic-stimulus package. But their ideas about free-market capitalism got us to where we are today. Which is pretty much so far into nowhere that a free-market guru such as Greenspan is talking about nationalizing banks.

Besides, let the Republicans howl — that’s what they’re good at.

And Greenspan has given President Obama political cover.

He should use it.

This is what happens when you idly gaze at Venus and start thinking about the economy, Republicans, and Roland Burris.

What about Burris? you say. What is there to say? He and A-Rod seem to be engaged in a desperate struggle to see who can be the bigger buffoon on the national stage.

I’d rather gaze at Venus.


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