Does everybody have the crazy? Has Wall Street been smoking those much-discussed green shoots? Even as investors argue and rend their hair over relatively trivial issues, they've inhaled enough mind-altering optimism to inflate the value of garbage stocks. Alas, when we finally come down from this collective bad trip, the big problems facing our economy will still be waiting for us.
Missing the point on health care
The health-care debate, fueled more by rage than reason, is just one example of investors' bizarre behavior. Some progressive activists got steamed about Whole Foods Market
The health-care hubbub is also drowning out important, salient details -- like the rumblings that major health insurers such as UnitedHealth Group
The prevailing rationale argues that benevolent government and greater regulation will save the day. (Never mind the further interference with our economy.) But who will really benefit from any impending changes? If powerful corporations and special interests walk away grinning, that's no improvement at all. Robust competition among health-care insurers would be a much better outcome for all of us.
If the health-care bill ultimately just showers insurers with federal largesse, it'll be little better than the government bailouts of powerful banking companies such as AIG
Don't look there! Look over here!
Where will we even get the money to pay for health-care reform, anyway? Last I checked, we were deep in debt as is.
Yesterday's fiscal word from the White House may have left most of Wall Street unfazed, but it nearly made me choke. The government now predicts that the U.S. will run a $9 trillion deficit over the next 10 years --$2 trillion more than an earlier forecast this year.
The White House has also now admitted that the "less bad" negative growth figures it's been using to project GDP for the entire year (based on expected improvement from the nauseating freefall reported in the year's first two quarters) will be "more bad" than previously anticipated. By now, it's easy to wonder whether these revised figures will also prove wrong.
Earlier this year, the White House thought that in 2010, GDP would increase by 3.2%; that's now been revised down to 2%. Meanwhile, the government expects public debt to consume 66.3% of GDP in 2010, the highest level since the 1940s.
I disagreed with Berkshire Hathaway's
Alas, his words of warning have been drowned out by the ruckus over health care.
Smoke 'em if you got 'em
Reckless spending, often with money we don't actually have, has always been our economy's biggest problem. First it came from consumers, whose purchases came to represent a huge chunk of our GDP. Massive amounts of speculation and debt -- and the government and monetary policies that encouraged such behavior -- only made that problem worse. And now that consumers have hit rock bottom, the government's taken over, going ever deeper into debt to spend even vaster amounts in hopes of slowing our economic freefall.
Unfortunately, Uncle Sam's spending is no more sustainable than consumers' was. As a result, we're delaying, but not diverting, any one of a host of ever-nastier outcomes: A double-dip recession, high inflation, government insolvency, increased joblessness, or worse. In the face of these problems, far too many people seem to be distracting themselves with unrealistic pipe dreams or overheated squabbling. Smoke 'em if you've got 'em, I guess. I'd rather keep my eyes on the increasingly bumpy road ahead.
Berkshire Hathaway, UnitedHealth Group, and Whole Foods Market are Motley Fool Stock Advisor selections. Berkshire, UnitedHealth, and WellPoint are Motley Fool Inside Value picks. The Fool owns shares of Berkshire and UnitedHealth. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.