When I moved my family to the NYC metro area 8 years ago, this seemed like the perfect neighborhood. Housing was relatively inexpensive, the neighborhood mix in terms of blue-collar and white-collar types, and a true representation of the American melting pot. Crime was low, the schools were better than average. In short, my town (and my neighborhood, especially) are about as representative of as you can find, with one glaring exception: this place is as solidly Democratic as anywhere in the country. The Republican party is virtually non-existent in the county and there is no local Republican organization.
I got to thinking about this yesterday after seeing one of my neighbors put a Mitt Romney sign in his yard and reflecting on recent conversations with others. There is palpable anger and despair with the current administration – anger and despair that emanates from the economic morass that Kearny, like so many other towns, finds itself stuck in. There’s a well-worn adage, coined by former House speaker Tip O’Neill, that “all politics is local.” There’s another equally well-known political saying, created by political consultant James Carville, that says “it’s the economy, stupid.” And after listening to my friends and neighbors, I found myself wondering just how exactly President Obama can win re-election. In a town where he holds an irrefutable edge in organization, he’s losing the local citizenry. And he’s losing that edge for one simple reason: the economy.
There’s the guy who owns the local bodega. He scrimped and saved to send his son to Columbia Law School. Despite graduating with honors and clerking at the Bronx DA’s office, his son cannot find permanent work. And thanks to the fact that nearly half of my neighbors are unemployed, his business is foundering. Where once he used to hire one or two local kids to help stock shelves, he hasn’t hired anyone. Instead, he has his cousin – an out-of-work software engineer – doing those tasks.
There’s a guy on my block who lost his job a month ago, because the company he worked for hasn’t had any new business in over a year. Despite more than 20 years working as a master stonemason, he is collecting unemployment for the first time in his life. He can’t find work. He’s falling behind on his mortgage. And he’s worried.
Around the corner, there’s a Brazilian restaurant that has cut back on their hours of operation and laid off half the staff. The woman who owns the place is in shock – three years ago she had a booming business ( you couldn’t even get a table without an hour wait) and even opened a second restaurant. Last week, she had to borrow money from her son just to turn the lights back on. She fully expects to have to shutter her business by September if conditions don’t improve.
Two doors up is a guy who owns a bakery. Every night, he leaves for work around 9pm. Last summer, he laid off his delivery driver and took to doing the deliveries himself. This summer, he’s been handing out free bread throughout the neighborhood – because orders are getting canceled at the last minute. While I’m grateful for the free bread, I wonder how much longer he can keep his ovens fired up at this pace. So does he.
After being vacant for two years, the house next door to me finally sold in May. The previous owner paid $378,000 for the property. The bank initially offered it at $290,000. The final selling price: $118,000. The new owners are excited. The rest of us looked at that selling price and weren’t quite so happy.
Down the street is an accountant I know. He got laid off in the bloodbath that was the Fall of 2009 and hasn’t found permanent employment since then. He’s surviving by taking much lower paying, no-benefit contract positions – a far cry form his former $100K salary. Where once he dreamed of sending his daughter to Princeton, the recent graduate is now headed to Hudson County Community College. And without a car – they had to sell her 17th birthday present back to the dealer, since they couldn’t make the payments.
These are just a few of the stories from my neighborhood. And as the anger seethes and despair grows, I can’t help but wonder if the President realizes he’s on a path to be remembered in the same vein as Jimmy Carter and Herbert Hoover. All because he forgot that all politics is local, and it’s the economy, stupid.
Something to chew on over the next few days:
According to Keynesian economics, all of this government spending over the past few years should have led to an explosion of job growth. After all, since 2008 the US Government has ballooned the debt by an annualized rate of 17.47% or about twice the rate of growth over the previous decade. But the jobs aren’t coming. This first graph shows the rate of employment vs. total working age population:
Table 1: May Total Employment Ratio
Notice that the percentage of working age people now working has dropped and kept dropping like a stone, despite all of that spending. In fact, the last time this few people had jobs was in 1982 – and prior to that, 1956, when farm payrolls were significantly higher than they are now. Now for the second half of the equation, part time employment vs. full time:
Table 2: May Employment Type Ratio
Fulltime employment has also continued to decline. Of course when you realize most of this recovery job “gains have been in retail or service industries, that shouldn’t come as a surprise. Still, the ratio now has dropped below4 FT employees per PT employee, territory we’ve never seen before. You can’t sustain a recovery on the back of McJobs. Right now, if you run the numbers, only 47% of working age Americans have a full-time job. If you’re shocked, you should be. The last time the number fell below 50% was in 1933.
If Barack Obama thinks this is the way towards recovery, he needs a new navigator.
Once every two years, Labor Day signals the opening of the “Silly Season.” What is this “Silly Season” you ask?
In a nutshell, the “Silly Season” is when the general populace joins political junkies in paying attention to the politicians running for office in November. And the politicians, on cue, begin campaigning in earnest. But what it makes the season silly is the way the politicians act. Suddenly, Democrats begin espousing conservative ideals. Ordinarily, they’re joined by Republicans discovering their love of liberal programs.
But this year promise to be sillier than most. With an unsettled economy, unemployment rising and public dissatisfaction in both political parties rising to all-time highs, Democrats are in serious trouble heading into the
campaign season. Many Congressional seats once considered safe for the Donkey Party are now in play; seats once considered as being in-play or toss-up’s are now leaning Republican. As reported in yesterday’s New York Times, the DNC is cutting loose many candidates, hoping to minimize losses in the November mid-terms.
In short, what many Democrats are discovering is that the positions they’ve spent the past four years carving out are not exactly what the country wanted. The reason they won most of their seats – including the Presidency – was national dissatisfaction with the Bush administration. The initiatives the current administration have pushed through have proven even more unpopular than the ones proposed by GWB. How bad is it? 56% of Americans want the abomination that passed as health care reform repealed. Republicans now lead Democrats in all ten of the major issues polls.
Not surprisingly, in light of these developments many Democrats are running as far from their own party as possible. It’s amazing how many Democrats are now against the very health care package they passed earlier this year. (Remember when Nancy Pelosi declared that once we knew what was in the bill, we would love it? Oops.) Even President Obama is finding his conservative voice, as reports suggest he will ask Congress to pass “targeted” tax breaks on Wednesday. To add to the sense of desperation from the Democrats, many are hoping to cast their opponents as extremists who would destroy the fabric of American life.
Of course, Republicans are tempted to equally join in the insanity, but so far have held the line on leaning left. They fully understand that the nation has peeked behind the Progressive curtain and been repulsed by the view. This is turning into one of the strangest elections ever seen, where the minority party is the one fending off negative attacks. Normally the reverse is true, but Republicans don’t need to go on the attack in this cycle. The news, even left-leaning organizations like MSNBC and the NY Times, can’t help but report the dismal employment numbers. So Republicans are remaining more or less silent, except to point out that the news hasn’t been good since the Obama administration took over. That’s attack ad enough. Besides, the left is self-immolating itself well enough that the Republicans don’t need to join in.
So kick back and enjoy the Road to November. It promises to be a fun – if bumpy – ride.
This article appeared in yesterday’s edition of Forbes. The authors, economists employed by First Trust Advisors, postulate that the economy is in recovery is underway. The only thing holding us back is unwarranted pessimism.
Phil Gramm’s thoughts on the economy have come back, it seems. You remember Gramm – during the 2008 election, he spouted off that the only thing wrong with the economy was the public’s perception. Shortly thereafter, Gramm joined the long unemployment line that was merely a figment of his imagination.
The indicators they point to, such as the increasing trade imbalance and devalued housing stock, are rife with the reasons the economy is in such a mess. Once again, we have economists pointing to debt-fueled consumption as the way to end the current economic slump. Nobody in their right mind is going to increase their debt load in this climate and for good reason. Basic common sense; the type of common sense missing from many economists and politicians psyches, tells us that we cannot borrow our way to prosperity any longer. Yet these types of articles continue to be published and their views continue to corrupt our discourse.
What is needed to get the economy rolling again is demand. The right type of demand, fueled by sustainable methods of production and innovation, not by gimmicks derived from debt restructuring, is the surest way to sustainable growth. So how do we get there – and remove the parasites who feed on debt?
We start by demanding government remove the binders on innovation and consumption. By continually bailing out mismanaged companies and decrepit industries, governments are preventing new industries and companies from establishing roots and flourishing. Regardless of the political unsavoriness that allowing large companies to fail and industries to wither presents, the process of “creative destruction” is essential to a growing and vibrant economy. The same way you prune dead shoots from a rose bush to allow larger blooms to grow is the same way the government should approach handling the economy.
Pursuing such a policy will cause employment displacement – but government officials can hardly claim the policy of propping up failed businesses hasn’t resulted in the same (nearly 1M newly unemployed this month can attest to that). This is where the government can assert a positive force, by providing short-term financial assistance to those displaced by the new economy. Likewise, government can fuel new growth by ensuring those displaced receive the training they need to compete.
Unfortunately, we’ve already wasted more than $1T in bailing out failed industries, leaving a huge debt sinkhole without anything to show for it. Instead of prudent financial management, it looks like our leaders – enamored with, and products of, the culture of debt – consigned the nation to a long period of economic malaise. While the second half of the program outlined above was made infeasible by the debt policies pursued by the federal government, the first half can be attained. The economic pain will not be any worse than what the nation currently feels. But given an intransigent White House and bickering Congress, it doesn’t seem likely they will change course.
More depressing news from Washington. According to this article in USA today, if you work for the federal government you’ll earn; er, make about twice as much as if you worked in the real world.
I did some back of the napkin calculations to see how much money that wastes in a year, even assuming we need all of those federal workers. (I don’t think we do, but until we get the private sector hiring again, leave ’em where they are). The number is…staggering. This is based on the average fed worker receiving $121K in annual compensation, the number specified in the article.
(Number of federal employees x $121,000) / 2=estimated overpayments
(2,150,000 x $121,000) / 2 = $130,075,000,000.
That is 130 billion, 75 million dollars.
Or, as my dear departed Granddad would say, “that’s a shitload of samoleans!” (I never really found out what a “samolean” was, but I always assumed it was something mean that traveled in big packs – like government employees).
I don’t know about you, but if the Keynesians want to spend some government dough around, I’d suggest they have a way to pay for it without adding to the debt. Simply tell all those federal employees they’re getting a 50% reduction in pay. It would also accomplish something else: all those beauracrats would actually begin to understand what it’s like to take drastic pay-cuts, only to see your job disappear 6 months later.
We can only hope…