There is a lot of discomfort over the slow pace of economic recovery, which, nevertheless, has been the longest, steadiest recovery in our history. Several years ago, as it was just getting underway, I wrote a short piece on my hope that it would be a slow paced one. It seemed to me that we needed to position the economy to better resist the cycles of boom and bust that have often characterized its performance. A slow recovery, I thought, might help because it would give time for entrepreneurs, investors, and corporations to investigate long term opportunities rather than jumping on the next bubble, hoping to bail out before it burst.
I also hoped that a slow recovery would help Americans begin to recognize that, in an interdependent global economy, we don’t have to be Number One in everything, we don’t have to be the Greatest Nation on Earth, and we don’t have to pretend that we control the ebb and flow of global trade. We can just get on with the business of being Americans doing the best we can at what we are best at doing, doing well at what we are good at doing, and not obsessing about what we are not good at doing, even if we once were.
Finally, I hoped that the informed public would recognize that a 2 to 3% annual growth rate was a good and sustainable one for a mature economy, and that a return to GDP growth rates above 5% is unlikely.
Not everything has worked the way I had hoped. It’s hard to tell what the informed public thinks about our economy because I’m not sure we have an informed public of any size worth mentioning. Most of the small segment of the public I get to talk with seems to think the glory days of some indeterminate prior decade should be the norm. Otherwise intelligent friends join the chorus calling for the return of manufacturing jobs without any clear idea of what that actually means. Others seem to be anxious about other countries outperforming the U.S. in this arena or that in the same way they get anxious about the Broncos outperforming the Seahawks.
When “We’re Number One”, “Make America Great Again”, and “America First” become the rallying cries of the body politic, we sound like spoiled children stomping our feet, demanding attention amidst a global community that is getting very tired of such boorish behavior. There is serious business to attend to, and such nationalistic childishness not only gets in the way, it diminishes our ability to be taken seriously in negotiations with others.
I read the Sorkin article in the New York Times Magazine about his interview with President Obama and his economic legacy. In it, the president admitted to having wanted a faster recovery, which many of us believe could have happened had not the Republican led congress made it clear that nothing the administration proposed would see the light of day, nor would they negotiate in good faith on any issue. It may not have been all bad. Congressional bullheaded intransigence may have made it more clear to at least some leaders how much we need to invest in infrastructure, education and the like; how the ACA does not need to be repealed but improved; and that taxes, more fairly levied, are not a burden but our collective investment in the future of the nation.
So here’s to slow recoveries in the hope that they will be long indeed. And here’s to honest assessments of our needs and assets in place of adolescent political bloviating.