Thu 12 Mar 2009
In my post on this blog yesterday I noted the growing chorus of political commentators who believe that this country and its leadership is not taking our country’s present economic crisis seriously enough. Add one more commentator to the list. Today in the Washington Post, David Ignatius joins the chorus with his piece A ‘Phony War’ On the Crisis.
In his column, Ignatius likens our response to the present “crisis” to the time in history when Neville Chamberlain was still Prime Minister of Great Britain and acting as if the problem with Germany could be dealt with short of war. It couldn’t then and it probably can’t now.
This is no ordinary recession. I have lived through a few and am startled when I read that current unemployment is about the same as it was during the early 1980s. I was just out of graduate school in the early 1980s and the times had a completely different feel to the times today. Today, it is as if much of our economy has ground to a standstill. I talk to friends looking for employment and they are reporting that jobs have almost completely dried up. And it is going to get worse, a lot worse, before it gets better.
Ignatius’ perspective on our lack of real action in dealing with this crisis is most valuable. He faults the President for, in a time of economic crisis, putting together a cabinet with almost no real-world business experience. Here’s what he has to say about our Republican and Democratic Congressional leadership:
Republicans and Democrats are sticking to party-line votes on many key issues. The Democrats were egregious in packing the stimulus bill with pet projects that won’t stimulate much except campaign contributions and in sticking with earmarks — a symbolic outrage that Obama promised during the campaign he would eliminate. But the Republicans have been even worse in their strategy of opposing recovery plans, which has given a legislative face to Rush Limbaugh’s “I hope he fails.”
Unlike the country’s reaction to the September 11 terrorist-inspired crisis, there is no sense that the country’s leadership perceives the degree of the risk that the country faces, or that we are indeed even in “crisis”. And, while as a country we perhaps overreacted to the crisis of September 11, it is clear we are not treating our present economic crisis with the respect it deserves. What it deserves is the putting aside partisan politics and ideological agendas in favor of unified action in the national interest.
One thing the country may need to do is spend additional money, both in supplementing the funds already committed to the banking industry and perhaps in additional stimulus funding. If it comes to the latter, this time around we need to do it right with clear criteria, developed with leadership from both parties, aimed at maximizing short-term economic impact.
Having said this, however, I fear our political leadership will not act until things get a lot worse. Let’s just hope that by then it is not too late.