Has market turmoil left you feeling afraid? Well, it should. Clearly, the economic crisis that began in 2008 is by no means over.I find it incredible that the one guy who has been right all along, the one guy who worried about the right things, the one guy who has had the right solutions all along, sits on the outside looking in while Obama surrounds himself with the very people who waltzed the country into the current mess, who've gotten everything wrong, who continue to get everything wrong, and who show no concern for the bottom 90% of the population.
But there’s another emotion you should feel: anger. For what we’re seeing now is what happens when influential people exploit a crisis rather than try to solve it.
For more than a year and a half — ever since President Obama chose to make deficits, not jobs, the central focus of the 2010 State of the Union address — we’ve had a public conversation that has been dominated by budget concerns, while almost ignoring unemployment. The supposedly urgent need to reduce deficits has so dominated the discourse that on Monday, in the midst of a market panic, Mr. Obama devoted most of his remarks to the deficit rather than to the clear and present danger of renewed recession.
What made this so bizarre was the fact that markets were signaling, as clearly as anyone could ask, that unemployment rather than deficits is our biggest problem. Bear in mind that deficit hawks have been warning for years that interest rates on U.S. government debt would soar any day now; the threat from the bond market was supposed to be the reason that we must slash the deficit now now now. But that threat keeps not materializing. And, this week, on the heels of a downgrade that was supposed to scare bond investors, those interest rates actually plunged to record lows.
What the market was saying — almost shouting — was, “We’re not worried about the deficit! We’re worried about the weak economy!” For a weak economy means both low interest rates and a lack of business opportunities, which, in turn, means that government bonds become an attractive investment even at very low yields. If the downgrade of U.S. debt had any effect at all, it was to reinforce fears of austerity policies that will make the economy even weaker.
When you’re bleeding profusely from an open wound, you want a doctor who binds that wound up, not a doctor who lectures you on the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle as you get older. When millions of willing and able workers are unemployed, and economic potential is going to waste to the tune of almost $1 trillion a year, you want policy makers who work on a fast recovery, not people who lecture you on the need for long-run fiscal sustainability.
What would a real response to our problems involve? First of all, it would involve more, not less, government spending for the time being — with mass unemployment and incredibly low borrowing costs, we should be rebuilding our schools, our roads, our water systems and more. It would involve aggressive moves to reduce household debt via mortgage forgiveness and refinancing. And it would involve an all-out effort by the Federal Reserve to get the economy moving, with the deliberate goal of generating higher inflation to help alleviate debt problems.
The usual suspects will, of course, denounce such ideas as irresponsible. But you know what’s really irresponsible? Hijacking the debate over a crisis to push for the same things you were advocating before the crisis, and letting the economy continue to bleed.
If you had told me that this would be the Obama of 2011 back in 2008, I would have told you that you were lying and vicious and simply couldn't be believed. But I've lived to watch "no drama" Obama sail on as if there are no problems, telling people that "the stimulus is working", that his "job #1 is jobs but he has no jobs plan", that he "feels your pain" but does nothing beyond mouth the words. Incredible.
And I have no words for the hypocritical, evil, destroy-the-economy-to-win-the-next-election Republicans. They are simply beyond the pale.