Larry Kudlow
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The ballroom was packed with a who’s who of business when Sen. Hillary Clinton addressed the Chicago Economic Club last week. No doubt about it, this was the address of a presidential hopeful. But unfortunately for Mrs. Clinton, the eyelids grew heavy as she droned on and on.

Sleep, it seems, was the better option to suffering through this odd and curious presentation. On the one hand Clinton acknowledged a growing economy, a stock market at historic highs, strong productivity and profits, and low unemployment, while on the other she called for big-government investment in infrastructure and heavy spending on health care and education. These two hands don’t go together.

The senator argued that “Tax cuts are not the cure-all for everything that ails the American economy,” and that instead we need the “right tax system [and] the right investment, including infrastructure. . . . decisions and policies that only all of us acting together through our government can make to set the stage for future prosperity.” The italics, unfortunately, are mine.

So what we have here is a strong plea for a government-directed economy. This is something that used to be called industrial planning and targeting, at least until the dismal economic performances of France, Germany, and Japan totally discredited those terms. But for Sen. Clinton, government planning is back. Citing a recent report by New York financier Felix Rohatyn and former senator Warren Rudman, Clinton is calling for a “national investment authority” to rebuild the nation. This in her view will solve all our problems related to airports, highways, bridges, hurricanes, and lord knows what else.

She speaks as though Congress didn’t already spend a fortune on the recent highway bill, replete with corrupt budget earmarks that totaled a cool $30 billion in 2005.

Ironically, while Clinton wants to revive big-government spending, a number of respected policy analysts are writing about making public highways private. Topping their list are the Chicago Skyway, the Indiana Turnpike, and toll roads in Texas and Oregon, toll truck lanes in Virginia and Atlanta. These private ventures would pay for themselves and would substitute market decisions for government planning. The Reason Foundation is chock full of similar ideas, including private-sector road and highway plans in California, where voters just rejected a $68 billion infrastructure package because of a political history of pilfered taxpayer funds.

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Larry Kudlow

Lawrence Kudlow is host of CNBC’s “The Kudlow Report,” which airs nightly from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.