Former President Ronald Reagan once famously said that the nine scariest words in the English language are, "I'm from the government, and I'm here to help."
That, in a nutshell, seems to be the theme of just about every speech President Barack Obama gives on the economy.
He did it again Monday, saying his team is "hard at work" on new ways to jump-start the economy. This was only three days after the government released figures showing the economy slowed to almost zero growth in the second quarter, ending in June. The only good news associated with the dismal 1.6 percent growth in gross domestic product is that it wasn't as bad as some experts had feared it would be. But recent bad news from the housing sector and unemployment indicates the third quarter may not be getting much better.
Frankly, Mr. President, the nation doesn't need any more hard work from your team. They are as much to blame for the dismal slowdown as anything.
The 2,300-page financial regulation bill recently passed into law is a prime example of misguided government help. It will translate into thousands of pages of new banking regulations that have yet to be written, which will create years of uncertainty in the financial sector.
The massive stimulus bill is another. It has done little more than suck money out of the economy in order to direct it toward certain segments, such as public works projects. Every stimulus dollar comes with a price. Politicians like to talk about the multiplier effect that comes from a stimulus. Money used for hiring workers ripples through the economy as those workers use their salaries to buy goods and services.
What they won't tell you about is the opposite effect. Every dollar government takes from people is one dollar less that can be spent on goods and services. Even worse, every dollar borrowed from China or elsewhere is a dollar, plus interest, taken from the economy.
To be fair, Obama on Monday touched on a lot of things the government ought to be doing. He spoke of tax relief for small businesses and a large lending fund to help community banks loan money to those businesses. He showed that he at least gets the need for lower tax rates to help businesses keep more of their money and to give Americans more spending power.
What he really ought to do, however, is announce he favors keeping all of the Bush tax cuts, which are set to expire at the end of this year. The president wants to keep the cuts in place for all but the wealthiest Americans — the ones who actually invest money, create wealth and hire workers.
But that would be bad for his political base, no matter how much sense it makes. That is why government help seldom does much other than hurt.