There’s been no surfeit of reasons trotted out for that “unexpected” economic contraction, most notably a shuffling of inventories in the private sector and diminished spending (mostly on defense) in the public sphere.
Isn’t this interesting? An economy supposedly on the rebound, as the Obama administration would have us think, should not be so adversely affected by a reduction in defense spending — cuts, by the way, the administration seems all too eager to make.
So, a certain “austerity” is to blame for this “unexpected” downturn? Consider this: In this past quarter, the federal government spent $908 billion — or $30 billion more than in the last quarter of 2011 and almost $100 billion more than in the third quarter of 2012. So the “austerity” excuse, at least in a comparative sense, falls far short of an adequate explanation.
Not that others weren’t offered, mind you. They most certainly were. On Wednesday, White House spokesman Jay Carney pinned blame for the contraction on time-honored punching bags — congressional Republicans, for instance, noting as he did (yet again) their alleged brinksmanship on “fiscal cliff” matters. And, likewise, “corporate jet owners,” perhaps because he hadn’t swift-kicked them in a while and they were due a sharp one to the chops. Who knows?
In between, Mr. Carney took a predictable stab at buoyancy, saying, “We continue to be poised for positive economic growth and job creation.”
Great God in heaven, how long have we been hearing this? Again, consider: Four years ago, in 2009, the White House predicted 4.6 percent growth for 2012. Each year since then, this figure was downgraded, until actual growth for the year registered a paltry 2.2 percent. One wonders how much longer a nation can remain collectively “poised.”
That “fidgety” or “edgy” has now supplanted “poised” in our national posture toward growth may serve to explain why Bloomberg News, as we heard Thursday, has advocated uprooting GDP as the foremost measuring stick of the economic condition and replacing it with some sort of social metric. OK, we’ll bite. Let’s make, say, consumer confidence the barometer.
Oops, neither Bloomberg nor the White House might deem that the greatest of ideas. Last month, consumer confidence also plunged, rather “unexpectedly,” to its lowest point in more than a year. It seems consumers aren’t “poised,” and are no longer buying whatever snake oil, or brackish bilgewater, Barack Obama or Ben Bernanke or even Jay Carney is selling. Consumers, you see, they’re actually living the “new normal.”
For them, apropos the term in Saturday’s lead editorial, “Stagnation Nation” is all too real.