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Everything Old Is New Again

A few weeks ago, Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan wrote the following:

The biggest political change in my lifetime is that Americans no longer assume that their children will have it better than they did. This is a huge break with the past, with assumptions and traditions that shaped us.

...

Parents now fear something has stopped ... they look around, follow the political stories and debates, and deep down they think their children will live in a more limited country, that jobs won't be made at a great enough pace, that taxes--too many people in the cart, not enough pulling it--will dishearten them, that the effects of 30 years of a low, sad culture will leave the whole country messed up. And then there is the world: nuts with nukes, etc.

Optimists think that if we manage to turn a few things around, their kids may have it ... almost as good. The country they inherit may be ... almost as good. And it's kind of a shock to think like this; pessimism isn't in our DNA. But it isn't pessimism, really, it's a kind of tough knowingness, combined, in most cases, with a daily, personal commitment to keep plugging.

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal also published this piece by Mort Zuckerman:

Our brief national encounter with optimism is now well and truly over. We have had the greatest fiscal and monetary stimulus in modern times. We have had a whole series of programs to pay people to buy cars, purchase homes, pay off their mortgages, weatherize their homes, and install solar paneling on their roofs. Yet the recovery remains feeble and the aftershocks of the post-bubble credit collapse are ongoing.

...

Are we at the end of the post-World War II period of growth? Tons of money have been shoveled in to rescue reckless banks and fill the huge hole in the economy, but nothing is working the way it normally had in all our previous crises.

Rather, we are in what a number of economists are referring to as the "new normal." This is a much slower-growing economy that, recent surveys have revealed, is causing many Americans to distance themselves from the long-held assumption that their children will have it better than they.

Is disparity, rather than prosperity, really the "New Normal"? Or is there something else? Hot Air's "Doctor Zero" posits an interesting theory:

The New Abnormal is becoming a big part of the Democrats' pre-election spin. Americans are supposed to accept their reduced standard of living and shrunken economy. They should lift their watery eyes in gratitude to the noble Democrat Party, which won't let any semblance of fiscal responsibility stop them from looting the future to provide endless unemployment benefits. The entire concept of unemployment has become a welfare hammock, with people like Biden essentially telling the jobless that a substantial number of them (eight million!) can expect to spend the rest of their lives that way.

I don't think the "New Normal" is new at all. Rather, it is very reminiscent of 1979 - 1980. Although I was young, I remember those days very well. I remember the national mood, the somber discontent that became characterized as "malaise". We had double-digit unemployment, inflation, and borrower's interest rates; the media began regularly reporting something they called the misery index. Pundits were telling us that we had danced through the 1950's and 1960's as the world's preeminent superpower, and now we had to pay the fiddler for all the wars and needless suffering that we had caused.

The economy was wrecked, but not because the "best and brightest" hadn't tried one theoretical solution after another. They couldn't control runaway inflation and interest rates and half-mile long lines at gas stations with regulation, price controls, and rationing, so we were left with the assumption that those things simply couldn't be fixed. State-run economies seemed to be doing just fine; perhaps it was capitalism itself, driven by greed, that was really the problem. Whatever the reason, pundits agreed that the post-WWII good life was over, and we had better start getting used to it.

Of course there are other comparisons we could make between today's economy and past perilous economic times; for example I think there is a valid comparison between Barack Obama's effete intellectualism, prickly personality, and economic policies that prioritized the shoring-up of unions, big business, banks, and other special political interests with billions in government aid, and the nearly identical personality traits and economic policies of ... Herbert Hoover.

But for me, the "malaise" comparison is particularly strong. Why? Because the malaise of 1979 - 1980 brought a man named Ronald Reagan to the forefront of American politics. Due to a combination intellectual aloofness and emotional attachment to their accomplishments, the ruling class and pundits of 1979 could not envision an America that was different from the one that their policy initiatives had ultimately shaped. In fact, they seemed to be telling us that we should actually be thanking them for keeping things from being even worse. No one imagined that in a mere five years interest rates would be cut in half, inflation would be tamed, the economy would post a 7% annual growth rate, and the Soviet Union would start showing outward signs of an impending implosion. No one that is, except Ronald Reagan.

Reagan imagined a strikingly different America, and he had the ability to convey his vision of America as a shining city on a hill to the American public at large. Reagan's economic and foreign policies, combined with his political savvy, certainly contributed to America's great recovery during the 1980's. But it was his optimism and belief in the greatness of America and its people -- not the greatness of himself or the ruling class or the Federal government -- that created the sense of confidence and hopefulness that made the recovery really happen.

I am optimistic that there will be another Great Recovery. I realize that the barriers are bigger (the financial and regulatory burden of ObamaCare alone indeed looks almost insurmountable) but I still believe in the can-do spirit of the American people. What we need is a great leader who believes in that spirit as well.

I hope we find one in time.


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Comments (12)

Is it me or is this looking... (Below threshold)
Meiji_man:

Is it me or is this looking more like a situation by design?
After years of the left telling us we should be more like Europe, with it's 8-12% unemployment, stifling Bureaucracy, locked in concrete "has" and "has nots", laughable Defense spending, and a pathetic universal health care, isn't it odd that what is EXACTLY what we have after less then two years of this moron?

It is already too late.<br ... (Below threshold)
Maddox:

It is already too late.
Without courageous leaders who are willing to make severe cuts to government and its social programs we are headed toward financial failure.
The current spending spree is intended to give those in charge longer to steal and control and there is no one to stop them.

Was everyone in a dream wor... (Below threshold)
mag:

Was everyone in a dream world? Didn't you think that all these social progams including medicare and social security will finally catch up to us. I am not saying that they are bad ideas. Hell, I have a lot of great ideas for myself.... places to go, building a dream home, fancy car, but if there is no money...then that is it.
You have to realized you can not have what you want, only what you can afford.
And even for the free loaders, if we have nothing left to give, what are they going to do.
Bottom line is always money. And it is not fair to have one generation paid for another. I too, believe our children and grandchildren will not have a good easy time.
The gov't train us well to expect them to come up with money and answers to our problems. I think the party is over. I think we might have to start all over again.

We don't have to have a new... (Below threshold)
Hank:

We don't have to have a new permanent lower standard of living. The economy will bounce right back if we don't hamstring it with excessive regulations, taxes and lawsuits.

We need to reign in the influence of the envir-whackos. Open up our own land to energy exploration and production. Create new refineries.

Lower taxes.

Reduce federal and state wages to be more in line with the private sector.

Everyone should pay some federal income tax.

Control immigration.

No more [additional] entitlement programs. There are way too many.

Disband all federal and state employee unions.

Most importantly, shrink the federal and state governments. What exactly has the Dept. of Energy done to justify its' existence, for example. The Dept of Education can go. Stop funding absurd studies, etc.

There are plenty of places to cut. What we need is a national version of Chris Christie to start getting it done.

Barry has added his own spe... (Below threshold)
914:

Barry has added his own special limburger cheese to this malaise.

There are people like Paul ... (Below threshold)
Roy:

There are people like Paul Ryan and other up-and-comers that will kick those pessimists in the crotch yet another time come 2012. So, hold the mayo.

Obama and Company will glad... (Below threshold)
GarandFan:

Obama and Company will gladly accept the 'new normal', seeing as it does not include them. Being of the 'elite', they are above it all.

Typical Democratic strategy. Set the bar low, and keep it there by telling everyone they won't be able to go any higher.

If Carter had been reelecte... (Below threshold)
Caesar Augustus:

If Carter had been reelected in '80 we quickly would have devolved into a 3rd-world banana republic. Similarly, if Obama is reelected in 2012 we quickly will devolve into a 3rd-world banana republic, but with even a worse fiscal and economic calamity than the Carter-era malaise. If conservatives stay home in droves and don't vote in 2012, to "send their messages" or to "prove their points," then Obama will be reelected.

Your next governor of Calif... (Below threshold)

Your next governor of California sums it up:

"The conventional viewpoint says we need a jobs program and we need to cut welfare. Just the opposite! We need more welfare and fewer jobs."

-Jerry Brown

The peanut farmer was ignor... (Below threshold)
oldpuppymax:

The peanut farmer was ignorant, silly and in way over his head, but I doubt he was deliberately working to destroy the nation. Hussein IS. And that's the difference. Unfortunately, far too few understand this...or rather, are willing to accept the fact of it.

I was 14 in 1979-- and it p... (Below threshold)
Ex-pat in Oz:

I was 14 in 1979-- and it pretty much sucked. But it did open up the way for Reagan.

I'm getting tired of everyone saying "it is too late...we don't have a leader these days...3rdw world...blah blah" We're Americans-- we don't NEED leaders. We ARE leaders by nature. All we need is our back against the wall and we find the leaders amongst us-- we naturally distribute the tasks at hand and go off and do what we need to do. When the house is on fire, you don't stand around and wait for someone to run for fire chief!

Buck up. Things are looking good. Nothing created by man can't be undone by man-- including ObamaCare and all the rest of the mess!

I began my career under Jim... (Below threshold)
John S:

I began my career under Jimmy Carter. I find it hard to imagine there's another Ronald Reagan. When the government stops lying about the GSEs, you'll find we're already at 140% debt to GDP. It's too late to save it this time. At best we'll muddle through a 20-year recession, which may eventually devolve into something resembling the French Revolution. I'm in my 50s. I never expect to work again -- not with 30 million jobless men lined up in front of me. And I expect an Obama death panel will kill me before that 20 years is up. So you'll have to man the guillotines without me.




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