For most of his six years in office, President Barack Obama utilized virtually every means a Keynesian imagination can cook up to give us the worst economic recovery since World War II. First came a waddling, often misdirected, utterly confused, obese stimulus that cost as much as the war in Iraq. It seems to have accomplished precious little, maybe less than relatively small sequester budget cuts Obama believed could be baleful.
But let’s give the president credit for something important. It is not something he did, but something he did not do. Although he is big buddies with radical environmentalists – showing his kinship with them in stalling an economically beneficial, science-approved Keystone XL pipeline – he did not oppose fracking, which also gives them the willies. It is an amazing technology providing energy companies with relatively easy, inexpensive access to vast quantities of natural gas and oil, thereby increasing world oil supply and boosting our economy.
Obama likely stayed out of the way in part because of the global-warming issue. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas seen as increasing warming, and fracking was causing it to go down far more than government programs, because the low-emission, inexpensive natural gas that fracking produced was increasingly replacing high-emission coal. Something else: It was vastly increasing oil supplies and causing prices to tumble. For consumers, it was joy in the pocketbook, something far more likely to lead to helpful spending than short-term stimulus gifts, and for many businesses it meant still perkier profits, the kind of thing that causes investments and more jobs.
Put it all together, add in some other economic pluses, and what we had in the third quarter of 2014 was higher household incomes and a 5 percent economic-growth rate causing many economists to predict good times in 2015. It’s not all merriment: The price dip makes some worry about lower demand caused by stagnant economies abroad, and stocks lately dropped after dramatic gains. But the overall message is that free markets — including energetic energy companies so often lambasted by Obama as somehow being the enemy — are the best economic friends we have, certainly not excessive regulation and the Big-Government-Knows-Best thesis.
To be sure, there are still those saying the Obama stimulus saved us from a second Great Depression, the intellectual dereliction being that “there is little direct empirical evidence that it had a significant effect.” Those words come from John B. Taylor of Stanford, an economist who respects research, and more words of wisdom have emanated from John H. Cochrane, a University of Chicago economist. “George Washington’s doctors probably argued that if they hadn’t bled him, he would have died faster,” he wrote in The Wall Street Journal after noting that big government spending splashes have repeatedly failed to rescue economies.
What the stimulus did help do was vastly increase the federal debt under Obama, which could mean catastrophe down the road, especially as deficits start going up again because of the essentially unaddressed issue of unsustainable entitlement expenditures. The economy is also still less lively than it could be because of an overdose of regulations, such as the Dodd-Frank bill meant to protect consumers and prevent a future Wall Street fiscal crisis. Some think it hurts consumers and increases the risk. Meanwhile, the Obama who saw fit to leave fracking alone seems to have changed his mind.
Mr. Unilateralist and his team are reportedly preparing all kinds of new federal rules on fracking and other energy technologies that some fear will do less to save us from environmental worry — the states and companies that do not want to risk setbacks were already doing that — than to reestablish economic worry. Some people seem to have an endless supply of the kind of good but misplaced intentions that convert the best of times to the worst of times.