Sunday, July 12, 2009

Have Patience, My Friends

Americans are an impatient lot. They demand instant gratification. That is why sodium-saturated frozen meals are microwaved in minutes and cholesterol-rich fast food restaurants so popular. When Americans apply this mentally imbalanced approach to solving our nation's economic ills, they demonstrate a side of themselves that is at best naive and worst ignorant.

So it comes as no surprise that President Barack Obama or his ghost writers offered The Washington Post an op-ed article the paper published asking Americans for patience as they suffer through the depths of this recession soon entering its second year of economic turmoil.

Writes Obama:

The swift and aggressive action we took in those first few months has helped pull our financial system and our economy back from the brink. We took steps to restart lending to families and businesses, stabilize our major financial institutions, and help homeowners stay in their homes and pay their mortgages. We also passed the most sweeping economic recovery plan in our nation's history.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was not expected to restore the economy to full health on its own but to provide the boost necessary to stop the free fall. So far, it has done that. It was, from the start, a two-year program, and it will steadily save and create jobs as it ramps up over this summer and fall. We must let it work the way it's supposed to, with the understanding that in any recession, unemployment tends to recover more slowly than other measures of economic activity.

The president is correct. Only 10% of the $787 billion Stimulus II signed into law in early February has been spent with most of the states using it to fill shortfalls in their budgets and extend unemployment benefits. Along with the billions used to bailout banks and two of America's largest automobile manufacturers, it is rather amazing the downhill slide has slowed if not bottomed out, if you believe the extent of the recession was worse than Vice President Joe Biden said the administration learned upon taking office.

Anyone who claims the Obama administration's approach to economic recovery at this stage is a failure is an ideological zealot. The economists and political pundits are all over the map in regards to this question.

I don't know if it will work. It's too soon to tell. There's many aspects to it I don't like such as government takeover of General Motors and Chrysler, AIG, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae and capping salaries in financial institutions that receive bailout funds.

But the fundamental question is not whether we like it. It is whether it will work. The bottom line seems to be an ambitious program in a Houdini act that requires finding revenue in which the president and Congress lacks the fortitude. By that, I mean a progressive tax on health premiums or regressive value added taxes on energy. If anyone believes they can live in this age without paying more in some form of tax revenue, they're living in a fantasy world.

It doesn't bother me that Obama campaigned on no tax increases for those earning less than $250,000. I interpreted that to mean federal income taxes which leaves the door open for other revenue-producing goodies.

There are several liberal and conservative columnists that drive me nuts. On the left, Paul Krugman essentially argues spending money at drunken-sailor speed despite long-term effects of inflation and deficits. On the right, Bill Kristol calls Obama the "nanny administration" for its safety nets at the expense of time-proven market conditions that will self-correct and stabilize the economy.

When I can understand him, columnist George Will has a filtered conservative perspective that oftentimes drives home a salient argument. In Sunday's Washington Post column, he says our unemployment rate of 9.2% equals that of the government-regulated economies of the Euro nations. Although he fails to mention mild successes of Medicare and Medicaid, he does recognize this American government failure that far predates the Obama reign:

The administration guesses that these government projects will do better than the Postal Service (its second-quarter loss, $1.9 billion, was 68 percent of its losses for all of 2008) and the government's railroad (Amtrak has had 38 money-losing years, and this year's losses are on pace to set a record).

Let's guess: Will a person or institution looking for a place to invest $1 billion seek opportunities in the United States, where policy decisions are deliberately increasing taxes, debt, regulations and the cost of energy, and soon will increase the cost of borrowing and hiring? Or will the investor look at, say, India. It is the least urbanized major country -- 70 percent of Indians live in rural areas, 50 percent on farms -- so the modernizing and productivity-enhancing movement from the countryside to the city is in its infancy. This nation of 1.2 billion people has a savings rate of 25 to 30 percent, and fewer than 20 million credit cards. Which nation, India or the United States, is apt to have the higher economic growth over the next decade?

But I digress. My point is this: Everything -- the domestic economy to foreign policy -- is now owned by Obama. If he fails, I will jump off the bandwagon and admit defeat. His moment of judgment is not today or even next year. It is November 2012. Have patience, my friends.

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