"Slarrow" refers to the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" from Hamlet's soliloquy. Here are the chronicles of such darts and whatever attempt there may be to take arms against such a sea of troubles.

Location: Ozarks, United States

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Jenga Economics

At NRO and other places, some conservatives have been wondering how to effectively fight back against the seemingly inexorable tide of borrow/spend demand-side economics about to come our way. John Hood began with a call for simple explanations, and some responded.

But I think we need a simpler way to open the conversation. During the 80's supply-side economics was belittled and derided as, variously, "voodoo economics", "Reaganomics", and (most famously), "trickle-down economics". Well, in face of a Keynesian economic tsunami, let's call it what it is: Jenga Economics.

You all know Jenga, right? That's the game where you start with a pretty stable tower and start building it taller and taller by removing pieces from the structure and putting them on top. Each person gets a turn, making it ever more risky as the game progresses, until someone makes a move that causes the whole thing to collapse. The thrill of the game comes from two impulses: the relief of pulling off a particularly tricky move without collapsing the tower, and the evil glee that comes from making it impossible for the next guy to do the same thing.

Seems to me that's a perfect metaphor for what's going on in Washington. You can track the first moves way back, from ACORN to Clinton to Barney Frank and Chris Dodd. You can point out the bailout crisis that sank McCain's campaign, the TARP bill that didn't stabilize the industry entirely, and the latest rush to spend more money we don't have. Floating trillion-dollar plus deficits and stimulus packages are just the pushing and tugging on various pieces to see if they'll come out without making it all fall down on your watch--which, if you're a politician, is all that matters, because if the other guy knocks the tower down, then you win.

The problem, of course, is that this ain't a damn game played for the pleasure and power of politicians. The tower is the collective livelihoods of the American people (and, frankly, the world, given our economic interconnectivity these days.) Our debates shouldn't be over which block to pull out or whose turn it is. The conversation should be about either changing the rules (that is, taking blocks from the top and putting them back in the structure) or start building a new, stable tower with the blocks we take from the old one. (There's a new set of labels for you: instead of demand-side/supply-side, it's Jenga Economics v. Lego Economics.)

Think about the similarities:
  • This notion that since we've borrowed so much that we need to borrow more to keep the economy moving is just bizarre. It's taking the most stable blocks from the structure and putting them on top to make sure the tower keeps getting taller. Gotta keep getting bigger, you know. Jenga.

  • The whole premise of "too big to fail" is that if you take me away, the system breaks down. Funny, though, how we have to then take another piece away (usually cash or borrowed cash) and put it on top of the tower. That means that your piece is now even more critical since the tower is more unstable...but the next time around, there are fewer pieces to put on top, which means that your turn is coming. Jenga.

  • I've got Throw'N'Go Jenga. It's got dice that mostly specify which pieces you're supposed to pull out. The trickiest option, though, is "Reverse". That changes the order of game play which means that you may be forced to spring the exquisite trap you just set. Politicians who are devising economic strategies that are designed in part to make their political opponents look bad are playing "Reverse" with the dice instead of concentrating on the structure they're trying to build. Jenga.

So for all those folks who want a simple way to get people to rethink this bold economic approach that threatens to swamp us, here's a start to get some traction. Because let's face it: whether it's Social Security, tax policy, deficit spending, entitlements, or pork barrel spending, it basically boils down to years of politicians playing Jenga with the economy. Whether or not we can stop it, isn't it about time we called it what it is?