Friday, October 17

Thinking about the economy

I'm not usually one to think much about the economy. Like thousands of Americans, I groused about the cost of gas. And I'm truly enjoying the much lower prices. Like thousands if not millions of Americans, I was outraged by the bailout. I've often wondered how and why our economy is driven by Wall Street. How did brokers and speculators become the arbiters of the economy? How did the economy work before there was Wall Street?

There has been talk about a recession for months. We're in one; we're not in one. We're in one and it's bad; we're in one and it could be worse. None of the so-called economic experts seem to know or agree. I don't know about you, but that makes me very nervous. If professional economists don't know what's going on, how in the world can the average American have any idea? Of course we don't know and most of us don't really want to know. Perhaps we think economics is too complicated and just hope someone will fix it.

Recently, though, I've developed this somewhat aberrant interest in the economy. An extension of the economic climate, I suppose, and the feeling of utter helplessness as I watch our so-called leaders and the candidates for president behave like the Keystone Kops. The absence of leadership, the absence of honesty, the absence of regulation is an incredible tragedy.

So a colleague of mine told me about an episode of Bill Maher during which David Walker, former Comptroller General, appeared. Now I'm a moderate Republican with random Democratic leanings, but I'm not a fan of Bill Maher. He's a bright man, no doubt, but a bit too left for my taste. Anyway, I was intrigued by the interview, so I did a bit more Google research and found information about a document titled I.O.U.S.A.: The Movie so I had to backtrack and discovered a few companies using the name Agora.

That intrigued me because Agora was an open place for assembly in ancient Greece. I didn't spend a lot of time at Agora Financial (I'll go back later), but also found a web site for Agora Entertainment, which is, of course, a part of Agora Financial. But there I found information about the book I.O.U.S.A. which led me to an article I can't find right now which led me to some other books about the economy and what incredibly bad shape we're in right now.

So, I went to Barnes & Noble after work tonight and bought I.O.U.S.A.--in addition to a few adolescent literature novels (it's research, really) and a few picture books (also school-related) and The Economist. I find I'm increasingly fascinated by this labyrinthine world of economics, but even more intrigued by the role of the taxpayer.

We really do have a starring role in this continuing drama. The federal government cannot function without us. Neither can the city, county, or state governments. And that seems to be one of the points of some of these economists. None of us wants higher taxes but nearly everyone wants a certain level of service. That doesn't come for free.

Of course, we also want our civil servants (there's a long riff on that phrase of civil servants who are often not particularly "civil" and are not remotely interested in being a "servant") to be individuals of integrity, who are willing to be transparent and held accountable for their actions. Raise your hand if you remember the last time any politician or government official at any level of any government was scrupulously honest, willing to be transparent and accountable.

And there, my friends, lies the problem. We don't trust Congress; CBS reports a 12% approval rating. Fifty-seven percent of Americans polled believe the economy is the most important issue. We may not understand the intricacies of the economy, but we understand when things seem to be spiraling out of control.

Quite honestly, I think Barack Obama will be elected president. It's nearly a foregone conclusion. The Washington Post just endorsed him though it also stated its concern about his relative lack of experience. The Chicago Tribune and The Los Angeles Times have also endorsed Obama, which comes as no surprise to me. Apparently the Trib hasn't backed a Democrat in years, but Obama is also a hometown guy. The article in the Post states this: "Yes, we have reservations and concerns, almost inevitably, given Mr. Obama's relatively brief experience in national politics. But we also have enormous hopes."

It's that last sentence that scares me. Mr. Obama will inherit some huge problems, including the biggest, most serious, and most far-reaching: the economy. He needs to have a definitive plan that involves more than bailouts. He had better make sure he has the keenest economic minds accessible to him and be willing to ignore them when they get too cerbral about economic practices of the everyday folks. And he had better be prepared to get very very busy his first day because he won't have the full 100 days to demonstrate his competence and capabilities to those who have placed such high hopes in him.

Obama has been talking like a miracle worker. A political, financial, and educational wizard who can and will institute change. Expectations for him have escalated beyond reason. He had better be able to institute startling changes within a very short period of time. People are counting on it. People are counting on him. The economies of the world are counting on him. Within a short period of time he has to demonstrate his leadership and institute change. He won't have 100 days.

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