Oh dear: we’re losing contact with Peggy Noonan again! As we enter a movie season featuring a cartoon about an aged, out-of-touch curmudgeon floating off from reality in a private balloon, let us not forget that we already have a similar character in journalism.
Here’s Noonan today:
Mr. Obama’s government, in all its flurry of activism, may kill the goose that laid the golden egg. This is as dreadful and obvious a cliche as they come, but too bad, it’s what people fear. They see the spending plans and tax plans, the regulation and reform hunger, the energy proposals and health-care ambitions, and they–we–wonder if the men and women doing all this, working in their separate and discrete areas, are being overseen by anyone saying, “By the way, don’t kill the goose.”
The goose of course is the big, messy, spirited, inspiring, and sometimes in some respects damaging but on the whole brilliant and productive wealth-generator known as the free-market capitalist system. People do want things cleaned up and needed regulations instituted, and they don’t mind at all if the very wealthy are more heavily taxed, but they greatly fear a goose killing. Economic freedom in all its chaos and disorder has kept us rich for 200 years, and allowed us as a nation to be generous and strong at home and in the world. But the goose can be killed–by carelessness, hostility, incrementalism, paralysis, and by no one saying, “Don’t kill the goose.”
Note to Noonan: The goose passed away last year. It is an ex-goose. Its neck was slit, over and over, by a decade-long procession of greedheads and vandals. Michael Lewis even wrote the obituary! The liver was extracted to produce foie gras that is still being feasted on in certain corners of Manhattan, southwestern Connecticut and Los Angeles. But there will be no more eggs until we figure out how to re-stock the farmyard. Indeed, Tim Geithner and Ben Bernanke are up all night in the financial labs trying to reconstitute the beast’s DNA.
I guess this cluelessness should not surprise us, given that Noonan is the same columnist who, last December, looked around and wondered why the economic crisis was not visible to her.
Still, this bears repeating: “What people fear” is not that the fragile life of the free market will be extinguished. What we fear is the lingering presence, and indeed power, of the buccaneers and charlatans who slaughtered it — and who will jump at any opportunity to strangle its successor, if they are given a tenth of a chance. Yet they are, apparently, as invisible to Noonan today as that goose-corpse was to her last December, when everyone else was gagging from the smell of its rot.