Attitude matters.

Author:Smick, David M.
Position:FROM THE FOUNDER - Barack Obama
 
FREE EXCERPT

After the Democratic Party's losses in the recent midterm elections, President Obama explained that the problem was one of communications. Voters never heard the good news on the economy, including the drop in the official unemployment rate.

President Obama should use another line.

Since the financial crisis in 2008 (see "Off the News"), most of the new jobs were produced in Texas. Texas civilian employment jumped by 12 percent, from 11 million to 12.3 million jobs as of September 2014. For the rest of the country during the same period, civilian employment dropped from 135.26 million to 134.27 million. The election results should not have been surprising.

Is Mr. Obama now really willing to give fracking the credit for the modest improvement in his employment picture?

The President needs a post mortem. For starters, why did his $830 billion fiscal stimulus fail to lead to the expected dramatic increase in aggregate demand? His acolytes suggest the stimulus was not large enough. Maybe so, but it looks increasingly as if two other factors were at work: the concerns by middle-class families over debt and/or global deflationary pressures.

Driven by fear and uncertainty, households in the face of the crisis massively deleveraged even as the non-financial corporate sector failed to invest. Before the crisis, household liabilities were 135 percent of GDP. By the beginning of 2014, that figure had dropped to 100 percent. People were scared, and still are, no doubt in part because U.S. public debt since the crisis has soared.

For a fiscal stimulus to work, the public has to be convinced the program makes sense for the long term. Yet American households and businesses both arrived at the same conclusion--debt matters. When all is said and done, debt has to be repaid.

Today the entire world is mired in debt. As economist Jorgen Orstrom Moller quipped (page 42), "No wonder it is so difficult to engineer a global recovery." Since the 2008 crisis, Japan's public and private debt has jumped from 450 percent to 610 percent of GDP; the eurozone's from 343 percent to 387 percent; and China's from 150 percent to 240 percent. Total global public and private debt exceeds $150 trillion.

But what is a trillion? Consider the number in terms of time. A thousand seconds is less than twenty minutes. A hundred thousand seconds is about a full day plus four hours. A million seconds? Twelve days. A billion seconds? A whopping thirty-six years.

A trillion seconds is the...

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