14 January 2010

Worst economy since when?

The common perception is that this is the worst economy since The Great Depression (I saw one article that referred to this as The Great Recession), yet if I look at commonly published statistics, it looks a lot like the early eighties when President Reagan and Treasury Secretary Volcker determined that it was necessary to bring inflation from the Carter administration down. In 1981-82, the unemployment rate was right around 10% for about 15 months (see the BLS web site for data). Sound familiar? The unemployment rate in the Great Depression was over 20% with a second spike happening after The New Deal had been in place for 5 years. We are not even close. As a matter of fact, there are more people employed in the United States now than in any year prior to 2000. By the way, what became of all of the doomsayers that were lamenting the lack of employees in the next decade with more people retiring than entering the workforce.
As for the "credit crunch", how about 30 year mortgages at 18%. Most of us would be beside ourselves if we applied for a mortgage and were told that the rate was going to be anywhere above 6%, let alone three times that. This also happened in the early eighties when inflation was being reigned in. This is in our future with the rate that the government is currently printing and spending money. The majority of companies and individuals that I see hit by the so-called credit crunch are the ones that continually over-extended themselves for over a decade. There is a new proposal to "fine" financial companies for having too much risk in their portfolios to recover TARP funds, yet it explicitly excludes the four biggest offenders of over-extension (GM, Chrysler, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac), not to mention that a large number of the banks that received TARP funds have repaid that money only to have the government divert it to other uses rather than paying down the incurred debt. Nothing like leading by example.....
The only item that I can see that makes this period equivalent to The Great Depression is the amount of government deficit spending and all of the new government programs and jobs. The only thing that pulled this country out of the Depression was the massive productivity of the American people in the years following World War Two. If our current government officials would simply look at the history, they would realize that the longest periods of prosperity in this country (and around the world) are when the government backs off and lets the rest of us do what we do.
The literal translation of laissez faire is "let do" or, more popularly, "let it be". It is viewed by many as the evil capitalists trying to "get away" with whatever they can to make a buck. In reality, laissez faire capitalism is society by contract, which is how this country became the land where the "streets were paved with gold" and drew productive immigrants into this country looking for the opportunity to run their lives and businesses as they deemed appropriate. That is what will allow this economy to recover and be something we can all be proud of passing on to our children. Government intervention in our lives over the last century is leading to more of society by coercion, which is why lobbyists have as much sway as they do. William Graham Sumner phrased it best when he interpreted laissez faire as "mind your own business".

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