Thursday, September 9, 2010

Collective action and the stimulus

So it looks like Obama is trying to push through a second stimulus package, but Democrats don't want to touch it.  Even Michael Bennet, who is about as closely tied with Obama politically as one can get, is distancing himself from the president on this one.

This is a classic Prisoner's Dilemma.  Democrats no doubt want a stimulus to pass -- it would be good for their constituencies -- but none of them wants to be seen as the one that allowed it to happen.  Any vote for more government spending right now will just be more fodder for Republicans in a very, very tough election for Democrats.  Now, that doesn't mean that opposing a stimulus bill will earn a Democrat immunity from being portrayed as a big spender (although that seems to be Bennet's rationale), but it deprives the Republicans of one more piece of ammunition.

Well, now that I think about it, it's not a perfect Prisoner's Dilemma.  It would be perfect if passage of the stimulus (the collective goal) would save Democratic seats in November.  It won't.  The only thing that could do that is some serious economic growth, and no stimulus is going to do that inside of two months.

So opposing Obama on this is a smart move politically for Democrats.  Hell, Obama might have expected that, but is just offering a stimulus so that endangered Democrats have something on which they can distance themselves from him.  The downside, however, is that the stimulus would probably help people get jobs, and that's not going to happen.  And given what the Congress is likely to look like next January, that's not going to happen for a long, long time.

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