Theoretically, principles of a sound economy are quite simple. Simple but not easy.
- If people have jobs, they’re making money.
- If people are making money and feel confident about the future, they are not draining safety-net resources—they spend it, they save it, they put it in banks, they borrow it and pay it back with interest, they give to it charitable organizations, they pay taxes on it to “provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty for themselves and their posterity.”
- If people spend money, well-managed honest businesses selling sought-after goods and services thrive and grow.
- If well-managed honest businesses thrive and grow, people have jobs.
The only reasonable debate, in my opinion, is where in that cycle, when things have gone awry, intervention or correction should best begin. I used to think that the differences between our major political parties could be traced to that. Not anymore.
The problem is that people are involved. Terrified, scared, depressed, angry, greedy, apathetic, smug, self-righteous, arrogant, gluttonous, kind, caring, sensible, competitive, giving, God-loving, black, white, Asian, African, European, American, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindi, atheist, emotionally mature, childish, jealous, pompous, aggressive, passive, blaming, accountable, “yes, but,” “I told you so,” forgiving, humble, responsible and sometimes, thankfully, reasonable people.
Last night, I watched part of a favorite television series that aired in the late 70’s, based on a novel written by Lillian Rogers Parks, My Thirty Years Backstairs at the White House. Lillian and/or her mother Maggie worked as maids and seamstresses at the White House from 1909 until 1960, and were privy to many private thoughts of our Presidents through the years.
This collection of episodes started at Harding and ended with Calvin Coolidge. Tonight’s will pick up at Hoover and go through WWII and FDR. Coolidge, VP to the bumbling rowdy Harding who likely died from the excesses of his life and the stress of the Teapot Dome scandal, was a bright and personally frugal man who, according to Parks (at least in the TV script), elected not to run for reelection in 1928 because he could find no way through the detritus of WWI and the inflation and fraud he had inherited from his predecessors. Having lost his younger son to blood poisoning while in the White House, he was discouraged in more than one arena.
Of course, we know what happened next. Hoover took office in March of 1929, and seven months later the stock market crashed, banks failed almost unilaterally, and we were thrown into the Great Depression. It took FDR’s WPA and CCC, the galvanizing effect of another World War that lost half a million Americans, and the grace of God to put enough Americans back to work, but the economy eventually recovered. I owe my existence to that recovery, along with my 70 million boomer compatriots.
Today, I read the results of a poll from the National Association of Business Economics, conducted between the end of December and the beginning of January that finds economists more hopeful about overall economic growth, the job market and demand for companies’ products and services than they have been since the start of the Great Recession.
Are they whistling in the dark? Or are the signs, though slower than we spoiled instant-gratification-driven adolescents would hope, predictors of recovery?
Is President Obama the 21st Century Coolidge or the counterpart to Roosevelt? A little of both or neither?
I don’t know, but one thing’s for sure. People haven’t changed. I just hope we don’t have to have another world war to get back on track.
“I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.” –Albert Einstein