There is a peculiar and rare form of mental illness called Munchausen’s syndrome by proxy (MSBP). The afflicted is generally a parent, and in the vast majority of cases the biological mother.
But the person really afflicted is the child of the parent, because the syndrome causes the parent to make the child appear to be sick. In more extreme cases, the parent actually make the child sick by poison or other means, often to the point of killing it. (A famous example of it in popular culture is shown in the movie The Sixth Sense, in which a mother repeatedly gives poison to her child, who later provides video evidence of her slow murder from beyond the grave.)
Doctors are taught to watch for the syndrome in medical school. Among the signs are:
- Illness is multisystemic, prolonged, unusual, or rare.
- Symptoms are inappropriate or incongruent.
- Symptoms disappear when parent or caretaker is absent.
- Parent is overly attached to the patient.
- Patient has poor tolerance of treatment (e.g., frequent vomiting, rash, problems with intravenous lines).
- Parent encourages medical staff to perform numerous tests and studies.
- General health of the patient is inconsistent with results of laboratory tests.
- Parent shows inordinate concern for feelings of the medical staff.
Another key feature is that the fabricated symptoms are observed only by the mother. It remains unclear what motivates sufferers of MSBP to harm their children in this way, or what benefit they derive from it. Perhaps it’s a means of gaining attention.
But what should we think when we see the same phenomenon on a much grander scale — when instead of a mother fabulizing symptoms or poisoning her child, an entire political class in power spouts nonsense about the state of a great nation’s economy and the causes for it, and then treats it with long-failed nostrums almost guaranteed to make the situation worse by any rational economic analysis? What to think when the stock market rises when the president is out of the country (“the patient improves in the absence of the parent”)?
All through last year, the Democrats insisted that the economy was tanking as a result of “tax cuts” and “deregulation,” though there’s not a single instance in the history of the world in which reducing tax rates caused a recession. They could never point to any particular thing that was “deregulated” during the Bush presidency (and they in fact fought against administration suggestions of stricter regulation of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac). They started talking down the economy last summer, and Senator Schumer almost singlehandedly caused the collapse of IndyMac, a key harbinger of what was to come, with some ill-chosen words a year ago.
The president continues to insist that private health care is a root cause of our problems, and that the economy cannot recover properly until the health insurance industry is overhauled to his specifications. This ignores the healthy economy we’ve enjoyed over much of the past three decades with the current system. He claims that we can somehow spend our way out of national penury with plans to vastly explode the federal debt over the next several years. This would make budget surpluses a quaint artifact of history and surely result in higher interest rates, more inflation, or (as we saw in the late seventies) both simultaneously. In other words, the symptoms are “inappropriate” and “not congruent” with the diagnosis.
The administration predicted last winter that, in the absence of their “stimulus” medicine, unemployment would rise to nine percent sometime next year, and that with it, it would peak at eight and start to drop this summer. Well, the contents of the bottle from the traveling Obama/Reid/Pelosi medicine show turned out to be arsenic, because unemployment is already at 9.4% and it’s not even summer yet. The patient is showing a “poor tolerance of the treatment.” Despite all of the medical “stress tests” being performed at the parent’s request, the economy continues to show “incongruities” and “results inconsistent with the tests.” And all the while, Daddy Obama tells us about our feelings and the importance of “empathy.” He pretends an “inordinate attachment” to us, basking in the worship of those who still believe that he’s going to fill their gas tank and pay their mortgage.
We don’t know for sure why a mother would poison her child, but it’s a lot easier to diagnose why politicians might want to tank the economy while blaming their political opponents’ policies for it. And it’s no coincidence that when you have policies that cause the failure of a major company, it provides a ready excuse for the government to take it over, because it’s “too big to fail.” So at what point do we diagnose the real problem, which is not the economy, but the people who have what Hayek called the fatal conceit to think that they can tinker it back to “health” with policies that just happen to coincide with their political preferences to increase their power and control over it and the American people? How long will the electorate put up with being operated on by the Three Stooges?
Unfortunately, if history is any judge, they might be able to get away with it a lot longer than we’d like to think. After all, Franklin Roosevelt, the original Munchausen national parent, kept tinkering all through the thirties, suppressing competition and demand, and never restoring the economy to full employment. But he kept winning reelection thanks to his bond with “the common man.” And shortly before the end of the war, he died just a few months after being elected to an unprecedented fourth term. So at long last, the economy, with the help of a newly Republican Congress that prevented Harry Truman from indulging in more snake oil, recovered after over fifteen years of continuous illness caused by an over-doting but toxic mother government.
Will the American people diagnose the real problem better this time around and start to apply a cure in the fall of next year? Unfortunately, history teaches us that most of us don’t learn from history. Maybe we should send them to medical school instead.