Is the recession over yet? – II

“What is the use of living, if it be not to strive for noble causes and to make this muddled world a better place for those who will live in it after we are gone?” — Winston Churchill

Statisticians say the recession ended mid-2009, four and a half years ago. But what do you think? Does it feel like the recession ended or does it feel like we are still in a recession? In a recent poll, 74% said we are still in a recession.

It’s no wonder most people feel that the recession never ended. Employment is miserable. GDP growth is pathetic. Median family income is down for four straight years. Almost 50 million Americans live below the federal poverty line. A record 47 million people are on food stamps. One pundit declared that “More people in the United States are poor, unemployed, underemployed, looking for work, disgusted and quit looking for work, on food stamps, and on disability than anytime in our history.”

If those words look familiar it is because I first wrote them three months ago. In that column, the focus was on the worst employment picture in more than 30 years. Three recent pieces of economic news make this a good time to look more broadly at the economy.

1) On April 22, the New York Times reported that the U.S. no longer has the highest Median Family Income in the world. Canada is now #1.
2) April 30, the headline news was that in the first quarter of 2014, the U.S. economy grew at an almost non-existent rate of 0.1%.
3) That same day other headlines stated that China would soon pass the U.S. as the world’s largest economy.

Our economy stinks and we will have more such headlines if we don’t fix it. So, how do we fix it? The first step is to replace all the politicians who don’t even realize there is a problem, who do the same wrong things year after year expecting different results.

For decades, probably for more than a century, the U.S. has had the richest middle class in the world. Not just the richest middle class, but also the richest lower class, the richest upper class, and even the richest poor people. Those in the bottom 10% were much better off than the bottom 10% in any other country.

U.S. median family income is now down for five years in a row. In Canada, median family income is up for four of the last five years. Is it pure coincidence that Canada has been governed by Conservatives in recent years, the U.S. by Progressives?

The Index of Economic Freedom is an annual scoring of some 180 nations by ten measures of economic freedom. As the Index states, “The ideals of economic freedom are strongly associated with healthier societies, cleaner environments, greater per capita wealth, human development, democracy, and poverty elimination.”

The U.S. was rated economically “free” in 2006. Since then, its freedom score has dropped 6 points, it has fallen out of the top 10 to now #12 and is ranked only “mostly free”. The U.S. has lost economic freedom for seven years in a row, particularly in the areas of property rights, and freedom from corruption.

Conversely, Canada has increased its freedom score by more than 10 points over the last 20 years. It is currently ranked #6, and is rated “free”.

Hmm, is there a pattern here? The U.S. loses economic freedom seven years in a row and median family income goes down for five years in a row. Canada increases its economic freedom and median family income goes up four of the last five years. It now has the world’s highest median family income.

GDP growth in this so-called “recovery” has been pathetic. For four years it has been around 1.5% to 2%. That is the slowest by far of all the recoveries in 65 years. The Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis has a nice interactive chart of all postwar recoveries. The current recovery amounts to merely an 11.1% increase in GDP over the almost five years since the recovery began. Many of the previous recoveries had double or almost triple that growth. This recovery is barely half the average of the ten previous recoveries.

Imagine if we had had as much as average growth in the last five years. Investor’s Business Daily estimates that we would now have $1.3 trillion higher income. That is about $10,000 higher per household. That is the cost of bad economic policies.

Apologists for the Obama “recovery” say that the recession was especially severe. Historically, the more severe the recession, the stronger the recovery. It should have been easy to produce better than average numbers. They now say that financial recessions take longer to recover. But that’s not what they said back in 2009 and into 2010. Back then they forecast a strong recovery. It was only after their economic plans failed that they started spouting the “financial recession” excuse.

The Democrat Party would be wise to heed the words of one of its Presidential candidates from some 20 years ago, the late Senator Paul Tsongas, who said, “You cannot redistribute wealth that you never created. You cannot be pro-jobs and anti-business at the same time. You cannot love employment and hate employers.”

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The death of liberalism?

We are a caring and generous society

“The history of recent decades has involved replacing what worked with what sounded good.” — Thomas Sowell

According to an old story, a small town in Italy was having a problem with vipers. So the town council established a “viper bounty” to pay people for bringing in dead vipers. The result was that people started breeding vipers in their basements.

This illustrates one of the basic laws of economics: People respond to incentives. They do more of something when the reward increases; they do less of something when the penalty or cost increases.

Much of our public policy suffers from a failure to understand the basics of human behavior. Politicians perceive a problem, rush to pass a law that sounds good, pat themselves on the back, then go on to the next problem. They rarely look back to examine whether their “solution” actually fixed the problem or made it worse. If the program doesn’t work, their answer always is that it needs more money. They never admit that they were wrong.

Consider our many programs to help the poor and vulnerable. We are a caring and generous society. We donate hundreds of billions of dollars and countless millions of hours of our time to helping others. Caring for the vulnerable attracts almost universal support. But good intentions don’t automatically produce good policies.

Shouldn’t the goal of our anti-poverty programs be to help people move up out of poverty? Most if not all of the programs don’t even try to reduce poverty. Instead, they simply hand out money so the poor will be a little less destitute. Those unfortunate people remain in or near poverty, dependent on government sometimes for their entire lives – and their children’s lives.

To paraphrase Winston Churchill: “They want to give you a line where you can wait for a handout… I want to offer you a ladder so you can reach for your dreams.” Democrats measure success by how many people receive assistance. Republicans measure success by how many people no longer need assistance.

The myriad of welfare programs reward people for being poor and penalize those who try to move out of poverty and up the income ladder. Someone who works harder, takes a second job, learns more skills, might earn $10,000 more but lose $15,000 of benefits. Hence, many say “I can’t afford to take that job. I’d lose my benefits!” With perverse incentives like these it is no wonder that we have more people in poverty and fewer people making the effort to better themselves.

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof recognized the problem: “This is painful for a liberal to admit, but conservatives have a point when they suggest that America’s safety net can sometimes entangle people in a soul-crushing dependency. Our poverty programs do rescue many people, but other times they backfire.”

Democrats like to claim that they are for the poor, that Republicans are for the rich. The truth is that we Republicans are for all people to have the opportunity to become rich. The Democrats are for policies that keep people poor. If they really cared for the poor, they would fix a system that traps people in poverty. They would reward, not penalize, people who try to better themselves and escape poverty.

Bad policies are condemning people to lifelong poverty, trapping them there, and killing all hope of a better life.

Three simple rules will keep most people out of poverty: “finish high school, get a full-time job, and wait until age 21 to get married and have children.” Follow all three rules and you have just a 2% chance of falling into poverty. Break all three rules and your chance of winding up in poverty is 76%. Tragically, government policies create incentives to break all three rules.

Welfare programs pay more to a teenage girl who has children, and pay less if she gets married, thus violating the third rule. ObamaCare provides a terrible incentive for businesses to limit employees to part-time work. This year 96% of all new jobs are part-time jobs, making it very hard to follow the second rule.

But the worst incentive of all is the government school system in too many parts of the country. In the inner cities the school systems are so bad that half the children drop out before they graduate and half those who do graduate are functionally illiterate. They will never get a decent job or a shot at the American dream.

The politicians and even the teachers know that the schools are terrible. That is why they send their own kids to private or parochial schools. Parents cry out for voucher programs that would let them send their kids to the same good schools that the politicians and teachers use for their kids. But the politicians and teachers care more about teachers’ jobs than they care about the kids whose lives they are destroying.

Did I mention which party runs all of these cities, has held the mayoralties, the city councils, the school boards for more than fifty years? Democrats run the welfare and school systems; they have created the policies that ruin the lives of the recipients of their handouts. And these are the people who say they care for the poor. They like the poor so much that they want more of them.

Poll: America’s best days are in the past

More than half (52%) of likely voters think the nation’s best days are in the past. Only 31% think the best days lie still ahead. — Rasmussen Reports

It is understandable that so many people think that. But they are wrong. The economy does stink. We are in the worst, most prolonged recovery in 70 years. Unemployment is awful. Millions of people have given up even looking for a job. Median family income is down. Debt is up. Growth is down.

But these bad things don’t just happen. They are the result of bad policies from politicians who do not understand the Law of Unintended Consequences, who do not understand that good intentions are not the same as good results.

The right policies can put us back on the right track to growth and prosperity. Most people think the country is headed the wrong direction. We need to elect politicians who agree with us, who know that we are on the wrong track and that we need to change direction. 

 

Another great column from Mark Steyn

The least dispiriting moment of another grim week in Washington was the sight of ornery veterans tearing down the Barrycades around the war memorials on the National Mall, dragging them up the street and dumping them outside the White House. This was, as Kevin Williamson wrote at National Review, “as excellent a gesture of the American spirit as our increasingly docile nation has seen in years.”

Read the whole thing. Here are some pull quotes:

  • Folding is what Republicans do. John Boehner and Mitch McConnell are so good at folding Obama should hire them as White House valets.
  • without meaningful course correction, America is doomed.
  • we are on course to becoming the first nation of negative-millionaires.
  • These days, it’s not clear to me that the Republican Party functions as a pro-American right.