Yes, the economic landscape looks bleak. Despite it all, I remain an optimist.
Yes, the economic landscape looks bleak. Way too many people
are out of work, our federal and many state budget deficits are frightful,
infrastructure is crumbling, terrorists still have us in their cross-hairs and
the only thing our reprehensible politicians want to do about any of this is
come up with the right sound bites to get reelected. On top of it all, I’m a
Despite it all, I remain an optimist. With the Cubs, there’s
always the promise of the next season. For the United States of America, adversity
always seems to bring out our best. That’s why I don’t pay attention to the
legions of pundits who blather about us as a society in decline.
First argument I throw back at them is, compared to what? A
knee-jerk response from a lot of them is - China! In a decade or two they may
well overtake us as the world’s biggest economy, and some people who should
know better even admire their politics. Sure, they’re a bit repressive, goes
their thinking, but a lot better than they used to be and not nearly as bad as
truly spooky regimes like in North
Korea, Zimbabwe, Sudan and so
on. When the Chinese want to get something done, nothing stands in their way,
these useful idiots gush.
My retort would be that I would not want to exchange our
country’s problems for China’s. Fast as their economy is growing, they still
can’t provide employment for hundreds of millions of their citizens who eke out
a Third World existence, and most who do have jobs make a Wal-Mart greeter
tycoonish by comparison. China harbors the world’s worst pollution and doesn’t
give a hoot that it poisons air and water well beyond its borders. Most
problematic of all, China’s
decades-old crackdown on population growth has set the stage for a demographic
nightmare in years to come.
What about the Europeans, then? The Euro has overtaken the
dollar as the world’s strongest currency, and the EU is - or until recently,
was - thought by many to be the wave of the future as a political and economic
Except the EU’s Greece problem may be just the first crack
in a foundation likely to further deteriorate over time. It’s interesting to
note that Europeans themselves are more pessimistic than we are about future
A Financial Times/Harris Poll taken last
in the U.S. and the five largest European
countries asked people about their standards of living today and what they think
it will be 10 years ahead. Adults in the U.S. led the pack in identifying
themselves as better off today than 10 years ago (44%), as well as being
optimistic about the new decade (43%). By comparison, 44% of French adults and
36% of Britons are pessimistic about the future (compared with 33% of
When the question was framed in terms of “… do you expect
your (own family’s) standard of living to improve, stay the same or get
worse?" - the U.S. once again led the pack with 39% of respondents saying
it would be better.
Wishful thinking doesn’t mean the desired outcome will
happen, of course, but this survey reveals an aspect of the American character
that has been demonstrated time and again throughout history. For all our
problems, and for all the jabs we take from the international community, deep
down inside most people around the world recognize that the U.S. still offers
more opportunity than anywhere else to make a better life, whether that entails
making money or stimulating the intellect or pursuing whatever other passion that
stirs a person. Fearful we’re being dragged down the European path? Future
elections may well put a stop to that.
The current gloom over our economy reminds me of the
terrible months during Fall 2001 when the events of 9/11 sent financial markets
tumbling and the pundits babbling of another Great Depression. Here’s what I
wrote in October 2001 in response:
“ … economics is a social science driven by
peoples' confidence in the future … nobody knows whether the bad times will
last for months or years, but I think it will be shorter than most people fear.
The darkest hours are before the dawn.”
Sure enough, by the first quarter of 2002 we were in
recovery, and it picked up steam all the way until 2008. I say we’re going to
be surprised again by the strength of the next recovery, which may already be
in its beginning stages.