I have been writing for the last two years or so that the strategy of the Federal Reserve has been to engineer a “soft landing” from the horrendous financial bubbles that were created during the disastrous presidency of George W. Bush. Since President Obama came to power in January 2009, his administration has been partners with the Federal Reserve in trying to do this.
It’s nonsense for anyone to say that the crash of 2008 had not been foreseen. A number of analysts, myself included, were predicting a crash by mid-2007. Actually, it was apparent that a serious decline would take place by the end of 2005 when the U.S. economy was still dependent on housing for half its growth over a year after the Federal Reserve had begun to raise interest rates. By early 2008 the economy was officially in a recession, though I actually dated it to December 2006 when the money supply measured by M1 became stagnant. That meant that consumer spending wasn’t even keeping up with inflation.
Now, over the last year, the recession has begun to bottom out due to the huge quantities of credit injected by the Federal Reserve into the failed banking system and by the relatively undersized economic stimulus asked for by President Obama and approved by Congress. A “recovery” has been declared, with stock prices making up for about half their previous losses, even though the official (and understated) unemployment rate is not likely to fall below 9.5-10 percent for the foreseeable future.
The current uptick has been projected by some analysts to continue through May-June 2010, when we will be in danger of another downturn that could be quite serious. Obviously the Democrats will be doing what they can to bolster confidence, at least until the 2010 Congressional elections.
The Republicans, with the victory of their candidate Scott Brown in the race for the late Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat in Massachusetts, are jubilant, even though they have absolutely nothing to offer as an alternative. How soon we forget that it was Republican policies, starting with Reaganomics and ending with the George W. Bush catastrophe, that has been the prelude to where we are today.
The prognosis for the U.S. economy is dim. From a larger perspective, we are at the end of the era of Keynesian economics, when the government thought all it had to do was run up more debt to stimulate the economy. When you add to that a generation of outsourcing of manufacturing jobs abroad, completely irresponsible and out-of-control behavior by the financial industry, and the cancerous growth of the military-intelligence-industrial complex and their pet wars, you have all the signs of an empire in precipitous decline.
For those who are habitually against everything the government does, I’d like to say that there are actually a few caring and intelligent people in authority these days who don’t want to see the total collapse of the U.S. as a nation, an economy, and a society. The U.S. remains the world’s largest consumer economy and the dollar the predominant currency. But the rest of the world has caught up. The Anglo-American Empire is seeing the sunset, and the choice now to be made is whether it will end peacefully or in a bang.
We can all hope for a peaceable conclusion, though it will take patience and hard work for the U.S. even to become a functioning economy on the same level as the rest of the world’s developed nations. So we can hope that the “soft landing” will work. But we still have a gigantic debt load to deal with, amounting to $60 trillion from all sources–business, government, and consumer.
We also have a gutted manufacturing sector, the huge overhead of a bloated financial industry (and their obscene bonuses), bankrupt governments at all levels, and way too many people with no real work to do like lawyers, health insurance executives, national security analysts, financial and educational bureaucrats, etc.
The short and simple answer is that we have to rebuild our economy, and our lives, from the bottom-up. We have to relearn how to do manual work like what we have mainly been asking immigrants to do for the last couple of decades. We should rebuild our local farming sector and get rid of bloated monstrosities like Monsanto. We should launch a major assault on the automobile culture and begin to revitalize cities and towns so that people can bike or walk to work or take public transportation.
It will not be easy to do these things. It may not even be possible. We have forgotten how to work because we have wanted our money to “work for us.” But that money, which only ever existed on paper, is gone. Our population is aging and not too healthy, making care of the sick and dying the only growth industry. And the young people who come out of our schools have few practical skills with which to earn a living. This must change too.
And what of investment capital? Loans are harder than ever to get. The small business sector, which could be an economic engine, is in dismal shape with lack of credit, high costs, and weakened markets for their products. Half of all new small businesses fail within one to two years of start-up.
Some say that a nation armed to the teeth and under this much pressure is likely to start a really big war out of frustration and not knowing what else to do. In other words, roll the dice. But World War II ended a long time ago. Since then, except for Vietnam, we have had our way bullying small nations. But that era has ended too. We won’t be able to do to China, Russia, and India what we did to Iraq and are trying to do to Afghanistan.
World War III would be a really bad choice. What we should do instead is take a positive attitude and sit down together and figure out ways to work our way out of this mess. But it will take a heap of humility, leadership, and willingness to face the pain of starting over again. But it could also be an adventure. After all, nation-building should begin at home.
Copyright 2010 by Richard C. Cook
Richard C. Cook is a former federal government analyst who writes on public policy issues. His website is www.richardccook.com. His latest book is We Hold These Truths: The Hope of Monetary Reform (Tendril Press, 2009).