Quiet times

(NNPA)—A snowstorm has blanketed the east coast, causing flight cancellations and disrupted holiday plans.  The President is vacationing in Hawaii after a grueling lame duck session in Washington, D.C.  During this the last week of the year, there will be no economic indicator issues.  These are quiet times.

I received an e-mail from a friend of a friend, one of those forwarded things that I swear not to forward on, even though I am threatened with gloom, doom and decades of bad luck if I fail to spread the word.   This electronic version of a chain letter leaves much to be desired until I read to the bottom line that says, “January 1, 2011 can be written as 1-1-11.  How much more confirmation do you need to do things differently.”  Something to think about but different does not mean polluting cyberspace with more junk e-mail.


Actually, this quiet time is time to savor, to enjoy, to replenish, to refresh and to get ready for those challenges that will surely come with this New Year.  From a policy perspective, many of the challenges have to do with the many ways that the now-dominant Congressional Republicans will attempt to chip away at gains that were made in the last congressional session, including gains in health care.  We can say what we will about the timing of health care reform, but the fact is that it is the most progressive economic reform we have seen since the FDR era.   It will take tremendous fortitude on the part of Democrats to hold the line on this legislation.

Already, people are gearing up for the presidential race in 2012.   Will she or won’t she?  Sarah Palin should, perhaps, take former First Lady Barbara Bush’s advice and high tail it back to Alaska.  For all of her supposed popularity, Palin’s second book has been a non-starter, and although she is said to “study” foreign affairs and other matters, there is that Biblical verse about the sow’s ear and the silk purse.  Palin is entertainment, and that’s about it.  Mississippi governor Haley Barbour had presidential ambitions but he cannot seem to stop defending the Klan, White Citizen’s Councils, and other racist groups.  His fealty to foolishness may play well south of the Mason-Dixon line, but the South is not likely to rise again on this one.  So who is left for the Republicans, Mitt Romney?  Mike Huckabee?  The pickings are pretty slim, though I am prepared to be surprised in 2011.  For all the talk of President Obama’s one-term presidency, if the economy turns around, he will be difficult to beat in 2012.

Is the U.S. economy turning around?  Unemployment rates remain high, but unemployment is a lagging indicator of economic success.  The stock market is doing better than expected, and other indicators seem to suggest that we are on the mend.  There is some fear of a “double dip” recession — recovery not getting enough traction, indicators heading south again, and it is troubling that we cannot expect unemployment rates to drop to 6 or 7 percent until around 2014.  President Obama will need to accelerate plans to lower unemployment.  He will need an unemployment rate closer to 8 percent to win in 2012.

Camus once wrote, “Without work all life is rotten.”  He was speaking more spiritually than economically, reflecting on our search for meaning, significance, and passion in our lives.  Work generally consumes at least a third of our day, gets us up in the morning, and makes our chest poke out when we answer the question “what do you do”.   Work supports and sustains us, pays our bills, puts food on the table and all that good stuff.  The need for meaningful employment is one of our most basic needs, one that government must address with industrial policy and job creation efforts.

What will our nation look like in 20 years?  What kinds of jobs will we have?  What kind of training will people need for those jobs?  Are we prepared to compete with the rest of the world, especially with China?  A snowstorm has blanketed the east coast and there are just a few more days left in 2010.  These are quiet times, filled with contemplation and possibilities for new beginnings.

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