Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Monday, October 5, 2009 11:30 pm

It’s the economy, stupid. No, not Washington’s economy. MY economy.

Filed under: I want my money back.,Journalism — Lex @ 11:30 pm
Tags: , ,

Yeah, I voted for Obama. No, I don’t think he’s all that. For that reason, among many others, I can foresee several scenarios under which he could be defeated for re-election in 2012. But the most likely, in my reasonably humble opinion?


Nowhere is the massive disconnect between Washington D.C. and the rest of the country more striking than when it comes to the issue of jobs.

Inside Washington, it is almost universally considered a foregone conclusion that unemployment will remain near, at, or even above 10 percent — not just for months, but for years to come. (The unemployment rate in September, we just found out this morning, ticked up yet again, to 9.8 percent.) As White House economic guru Larry Summers dispassionately told reporters last month (while otherwise taking credit for turning the economy around), “The level of unemployment is unacceptably high and will on all forecasts remain unacceptably high for a number of, for a number of years.”

This situation creates no sense of urgency in Washington. Ask Summers what he’s going to do about it, for instance, and he hems and haws about recovery act programs that have yet to take full effect. To our political elite, jobs are simply nowhere near as critical an issue as the other economic indicators, the stock market, or the financial health of the nation’s top bankers.

Outside the Beltway, however, it’s a different story. According to a new poll by Hart Research Associates for the Economic Policy Institute, unemployment and the lack of jobs “remains the dominant problem on the economic agenda for voters across party lines.” In fact, it’s not even close. Asked to name the most important economic problem facing the country, registered voters cited unemployment twice as often as they mentioned the deficit or even the cost of health care; and four times as much as the housing crisis or problems with the banking system.

A whopping 83 percent see unemployment as either a fairly big or very big problem; and 81 percent say the Obama administration hasn’t done enough to deal with it.

And there just aren’t a whole lot of things that more than 80 percent of Americans agree about.

If Obama’s political instincts are all that — and I don’t think he has been as good as he has been lucky — he’s going to take this issue and ride it. Unfortunately, to do so, he’s going to have to fire a lot of his senior economic brain trust. I say “unfortunately” not because this would be a bad thing — Tim Geithner is as responsible as anyone for having gotten us into this mess — but because Obama, and this is one reason I do not think he is all that, has never displayed a knack, let alone a taste, for significant policy corrections and the personnel changes they generally require. (Note that I distinguish policy corrections — changes in actions — from breaking political promises, which he has done as much as the next guy.)

In 1981-82, Ronald Reagan let the unemployment rate hit 10 percent because he felt it was part and parcel of getting inflation (which had topped 11 percent in 1979) under control. He might or might not have been right about that, but it was at least a defensible argument. Obama, on the other hand, has no such argument to make. Banks are borrowing money overnight for free and lending it to consumers at up to 30% (checked your credit-card bill lately?). There’s no greater good being served by high unemployment now, not even in theory.

And beyond that, this country needs to have a serious talk about this question: What is the purpose of the economy? I would argue that the purpose of the economy is to provide decent jobs, period. You take care of that, everything else will pretty much take care of itself.

The purpose of the economy is NOT to maximize the profits of commercial banks or investment banks. It is NOT to make rock stars out of bond traders. It is NOT to enrich the wealthy and the politically connected through government-driven upward transfers and concentrations of wealth, as have occurred almost without interruption since the mid-1970s.

Officially, 9.8 percent of Americans were unemployed in September. (Worse, a signficant chunk of them have exhausted their unemployment benefits because they’ve been unemployed so long.) That figure, the highest since 1982, is so widely recognized as misleadingly low that even the mainstream media, who typically can be relied upon to parrot the banksters’ language, are beginning to use the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ U6 figure, which provides a more accurate picture of what’s really going on, or not, in the labor market. (And the fact that they are will not redound to Obama’s political credit, which is another reason to dismiss what conservatives say about the media loving Obama and hating Republicans.)

Here’s the deal, folks: Close to one in five of your friends and relatives are either out of work entirely but still looking, have completely stopped looking, or are working in jobs for which they’re overqualified simply because it’s that or nothing. There are now six people out there hunting for work for every job opening that exists. And four out of five of you think that sucks worse than any other problem we’ve got AND that Obama isn’t doing enough about it.

Do I think there’s a Republican out there right now with the right answer? I do not. But it won’t take a Republican with the right answer for Obama to lose. All it will take will be for Obama himself not to ask the right question.

And right now, he ain’t asking. He should ask Jimmy Carter how that worked out for him.

UPDATE: One possible explanation for why he ain’t asking.

1 Comment

  1. […] although I seldom make political predictions, I won’t hesitate to predict that the outcomes in 2010 and 2012 will be based primarily on who is doing more, or who […]

    Pingback by Jon Kyl, lucky duckies and the nature of the 21st-century recessions « Blog on the Run: Reloaded — Saturday, October 10, 2009 3:21 pm @ 3:21 pm

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