Friday, September 3, 2010

Are Americans Spoiled Brats?

Eugene Robinson, one of the best newspaper editorialists on the planet, calls the American electorate "spoiled brats" having a "temper tantrum".  In today's Washington Post, he writes
The nation demands the impossible: quick, painless solutions to long-term, structural problems. While they're running for office, politicians of both parties encourage this kind of magical thinking. When they get into office, they're forced to try to explain that things aren't quite so simple -- that restructuring our economy, renewing the nation's increasingly rickety infrastructure, reforming an unsustainable system of entitlements, redefining America's position in the world and all the other massive challenges that face the country are going to require years of effort. But the American people don't want to hear any of this. They want somebody to make it all better. Now.
...And one thing (President Obama) really hasn't done is frame the hard work that lies ahead as a national crusade that will require a degree of sacrifice from every one of us. It's obvious, for example, that the solution to our economic woes is not just to reinflate the housing bubble. New foundations have to be laid for a 21st-century economy, starting with weaning the nation off of its dependence on fossil fuels, which means there will have to be an increase in the price of oil. I don't want to pay more to fill my gas tank, but I know that it would be good for the nation if I did.
The richest Americans need to pay higher taxes -- not because they're bad people who deserve to be punished but because they earn a much bigger share of the nation's income and hold a bigger share of its overall wealth. If they don't pay more, there won't be enough revenue to maintain, much less improve, the kind of infrastructure that fosters economic growth. Think of what the interstate highway system has meant to this country. Now imagine trying to build it today.
Barack Obama was elected to an impossibly hard presidency.  He knew it going in.  He ran on a platform of "Change", which ties in nicely to Mr. Robinson's argument. 
President Obama can point to any number of occasions on which he has told Americans that getting our nation back on track is a long-range project. But his campaign stump speech ended with the exhortation, "Let's go change the world" -- not, "Let's go change the world slowly and incrementally, waiting years before we see the fruits of our labor."
But the paramount issues for Americans kept shifting.  First it was the war, then the economy, then jobs, etc.  My guess is the majority of us did not agree with TARP or the auto industry bailout.  Many economists said they were necessary.  But I doubt if 98% of us, including those economists, politicians, etc, understood any of the ramifications, let alone the criteria for receipt of the monies.  In retrospect, my personal opinion is all companies should have had to adhere to the good old capitalistic
values they espouse and "let the market decide". 

I don't like being in a recession of this magnitude.  But if it teaches us restraint in spending, if it teaches us to begin saving again, I understand the American people have a 6% savings rate at present, then it will be worth it.  We've been  spending like drunken sailors for the past twenty five years.  I am hoping the discipline we learn during this very difficult time will stick.  If it doesn't, the recession will look like a picnic in the park.


Susan Erickson said...

right on! Here in Canada we see much the same. Change is slow and painful and everybody looks for the quick fix. Not going to happen....the bubble has burst and we all have to adjust accordingly. Humbling, isn't it?

DJan said...

Robinson said it well, and you said it better. I hear you! I know it's an impossible task, but I fear the worst if the Republicans gain power, because they seem to think that shrinking government is the way to go. Fine for those with money, not fine for those of us without.

injaynesworld said...

Good post. I hadn't read this. I have to disagree with you about the auto industry bailouts. There were actually loans, which are being paid back with interest, so the taxpayers have actually made money on the deal. Same with the banks. The U.S. has exported almost all its manufacturing. Autos is one of our last industries. By saving the auto companies, we also saved a lot of jobs in related industries that depend on the auto companies. It turned out to be a very good investment.

California Girl said...

Susan: is this symptomatic of all :developed" nations?

DJan, thanks for elevating me above Mr. Robinson...hahaha!

Jayne: you are right about the auto industry and I did consider the jobs aspect of that when I was writing the post. You are right they paid it back. As for the banking industry, I am not convinced they should have been "loaned" the money, particularly w/o any reasonable criteria or future restraints. They have been raping and pillaging, with the aid of our govt for too long. When you consider the architects of TARP, Henry Paulson in particular, why would there be future stop gaps for these financial folk? They are the first to scream the loudest about free market trade, Capitalism, etc. They just don't want to live and die by the sword.

Blissed-Out Grandma said...

It always troubles me when business reporters and economists matter-of-factly talk about how we all have to regain our confidence and return to our old spending habits. NO! It will be so much better for everyone if we do learn to live with less. But that requires business and government to understand and agree on (ha!) a new economic model with new kinds of jobs, new goals, new definitions of success. I despair of our ever raising the level of discussion in order to achieve that.

Baino said...

Such a complex issue and I do feel sorry for Obama because political memories are short and he won't go down in history as a 'good' president under the current economic cloud. Brace yourself America, theres talk afoot of a double dip so it aint over yet. Much as you hate regulation, it was banking regulation that saved Australia from officially dipping into recession. Without it, we'd be stuffed. Having said that, consumer spending is now way down here, although credit debt is still a problem, looks like we are learning a valuable lesson down here.

Megan said...

My news feed today showed simultaneously a story that unemployment is rising and a story that the market was "rallying" on a "strong jobs report."

And meanwhile, in between the two is the rumor that Lindsay ran over a baby carriage?!?

Oh, and a suicide bombing. Can we get through a day without a suicide bombing? Please world? Pretty please with sugar on it?

In short, I'm tired of the chaos. Sick and tired. No wonder I drink so much...

California Girl said...

More thoughtful comments from those of you who've taken time to read this. Thank you.

Bliss: My parents went through the Depression and had savings accounts as well as stocks and bonds. My father was a very careful investor, not always great at it, but he managed his money. My mother, who'd been in accounting, managed our books and savings. There was a good deal of money for their retirement which Dad didn't take til he was 69 and they have another great 20 years together before Mom died. Their money paid for her care at home and his care at home. My husband and I haven't been as thrifty and I hope our sons take pity!

Baino: Bank/Financial regulation, possible govt takeover of it all, works for me. My dad would roll over in his grave if he heard that, yet he wouldn't like the big corporate ownership either. If you can believe it, we called a major bank five days ago to discuss a mortgage plan for my MIL's house & they still haven't called back. Why? I dunno but they probably don't much care.

Megan: The news is no longer news, it's an amalgam of crap with headlines. Yea, I drink too much too.

Mama Zen said...

I agree that President Obama is not connecting with the American public. There is so much fear out there; a national crusade (as Robinson puts it) may be just what is needed to combat the feelings of helplessness. Unfortunately, it's the right wing nuts that are capitalizing on that.

injaynesworld said...

TARP, which was done in the fall of '08 on Bush's watch, rescued AIG and the banks. While AIG and many of the banks are paying back the money with interest and, like the auto loans, taxpayers are making a profit from the loans, there should have been more strings attached to the money in terms of a certain percentage of that money that they had to agree to put back into the economy in terms of small business loans, etc. I agree that they got the money way too easily.

RNSANE said...

At 64-1/2, I lost my city and county of San Francisco forensic RN position of 21 years in massive budget cuts to the Dept of Public Health. In this area, one of the most expensive in the U. S. to live, I raised three sons alone, without child support and was forced to retire on a half time pension, with an annual income that had plummeted $90,000/year. I am not joking, within the next two months, I will probably be living in my van. I am terrified and so depressed. Because I use a walker and worked so many years in forensics, I cannot find nursing employment in other specialties.

California Girl said...

Mama: Polls this morning from Wall St Jrnl (I think) say 60% of the country think we're "going on the wrong track" and less than 40% approve of Obama's handling of the economy.

RN: I am shocked by your situation. Will your sons help you? I couldn't leave my mother twisting in the wind. If you need a walker and have lost most of your pension, you'll have to have help. I am so sorry to hear this and I pray for better days ahead of you.


by Cole Scott