South Carolina Republican politicians appear determined to help a woebegone nation get through these troubled economic times by providing us with an unending gusher of comic relief. If it isn't Senator Jim DeMint declaring that the stimulus bill is anti-Christian, then it's Senator Lindsey Graham attacking earmarks in general while defending his own earmarks as justifiable spending appropriations.
But that's old news. Now we've got South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford announcing that he will ask President Obama for a stimulus "waiver" that will allow him to apply $700 million worth of stimulus funds to paying down South Carolina's "very sizable state debt and contingent liabilities."
Aside from not appearing to understand what the word "stimulus" means, Sanford is displaying a distressing level of ignorance as to the nature of our current economic problems. In a letter to state legislators, Sanford wrote that "[W]hen one is in a hole, the first order of business is to stop digging."
That kind of thinking might apply to, oh, I don't know, enacting tax cuts without matching spending cuts, or waging a war without coming up with a source of revenue to offset its cost. But it does not apply to the problem of confronting a collapse in demand. To put it in Sanford's own terms: to stop digging now runs the risk of making the hole much bigger. Each month in which 600,000 jobs are lost is a month in which 600,000 more people become significantly constrained in their ability to consume goods and services, which means that the companies that produce those goods and services go out of business, leading to more layoffs, and so on. The cycle is self-perpetuating and, so far, steadily accelerating. Paying down government debt at this particular juncture is probably the stupidest use of government funds possible.
The moderate conservative opinion columnist David Brooks had a choice word for this kind of economic strategy, when commenting on House Minority Leader John Boehner's call last Friday for a spending freeze.