Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Let's Buck Up a Bit

I checked the Constitution, and darn it, I couldn’t find it. I was looking for the part where the high price of lumber is a high crime and misdemeanor constituting grounds for impeaching the president.

The Founding Fathers dropped the ball on that one, but the writer of a recent letter to the editor on this page, in a spectacular display of infantilism, picked it up by issuing another call for impeaching the president. Her beef? Sundry economic woes, including the high price of lumber.

This letter exposes an ugly strain of whininess that has infected our nation, but it’s an election year, so polls show Chicken Little leading in the electoral vote count. Ask the average person and you’d be told that the United States is in the middle of a steep recession. Fanning the flames of this four-alarm panic are the leftist “mainstream” media, for if they can’t convince you that bread lines and “Brother, can you spare a dime?” are just over the horizon, you won’t vote for their poodle for president.

A recession is defined as two consecutive quarters of negative economic growth (economist-speak, I think, for shrinkage). Yet during the first quarter of 2008, the economy grew at a rate of 0.9 percent, during the second quarter, 1.9 percent. Not robust growth to be sure, but growth nonetheless. There is no recession. Nothing has receded.

But let’s take a bit of a longer view. In 1996 the U.S. unemployment rate in the middle of Clintonomics was 5.4 percent, about the same as it is now. In 1997, gross domestic product, a measure of the nation’s output of goods and services, was roughly $8 trillion. In 2007 GDP was $13.8 trillion. At the beginning of 1997, interest rates on 30-year fixed mortgages ranged from 7.8 to 8 percent. Today rates range from 6.5 to 6.9 percent, making homes more affordable for thousands of buyers. In 1997, the price of computing was measured in dollars per megabyte. Today it’s measured in cents per gigabyte. According to Pew Research Center data, since 1992, the percentage of Americans who agree that they “can afford what they want” has risen steadily from 39 percent to 52 percent, the highest ever. The point is that the United States enjoys a robust and diversified economy, one that rides out the inexorable cycles of ups and downs—a cycle dramatically illustrated by oil prices, which, after hitting $147 a barrel, were down to $114 as I write. If high gas prices are grounds for impeachment, then the same logic dictates that lower gas prices are grounds for a third term.

There are other reasons to stop whining. In 1996, U.S. life expectancy was 75.9 years. Today it’s over 78 years—81 if you’re a woman—and in nearly every major disease category, death rates are sharply down. In 1996 the infant mortality rate was 7.3 deaths per 1,000 live births. Today the rate is 6.4. Crime rates are down by half since the early 1990s. Violent crime is down roughly 60 percent. School violence is down roughly 50 percent. Admittedly, I’m cherry-picking. Gloomsters could cite other statistics. But c’mon, let’s buck up a little. Are some people struggling? Sure. Some struggled under Clinton in the 1990s. Others will struggle if the poodle wins best in show. But struggle sweetens success. Struggle calls forth faculties.

I was thinking about all this in connection with a heart-warming story that recently came to my attention. Maybe you’ve heard it. In early 2002, a member of the Maasai tribe in remote Kenya returned home from Stanford University to tell horrified villagers about the events of 9/11. The village elders gathered to determine how they could express their grief at what happened in the country that had embraced and educated one of their sons. They concluded that the handkerchief that would wipe away America’s tears would be a gift of 14 of their cows. These are people who are dirt poor; Kenyans’ annual per capita income is about $360. The Maasai didn’t know about 9/11 because they have no television or radio, nor electricity to run them. The only resource they have, one they regard as sacred, are cows.

And we grouse about the price of lumber. Good grief.

Michael J. O'Neal labors sweatily as a freelance writer. You can hitch him to your draycart at http://thespeech-writer.com.

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