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That Shrinking Feeling

America’s economy made a brief appearance in the headlines Wednesday, jostling for space on the newscasts with illegal immigrants, the latest gun-grabbing frenzy, and some predictable anti-homosexual aspersions cast during the pre-Super Bowl hype. The news was that the economy shrank by a tenth of a percentage point in the last three months of the past year, which is bad, so the media will likely let the matter drop soon.
It’s the kind of news that demands some brief acknowledgement from even the most reluctant reporters, though, so most of the press organizations immediately began spelunking for some heartening information that might be hidden inside in the dark cavern of the Commerce Department’s grim report. The decline was a “surprise” according to the headline writers, who always seem surprised when anything bad happens in the age of Obama, and the lead stories were quick to mention that it all means the Fed will continue to keep the money-printers working overtime. Most reports were also happy to prominently feature the Democrats’ view that this was the “best-looking contraction in U.S. GDP you’ll ever see.
A fellow named Paul Ashworth, the chief economist for Capital Economics, was able to make that claim without giggling because the report indicated that most of the decline was attributable to cuts in the defense budget and a decline in inventories. Both of these are a “one-off,” Ashworth contends, and thus the economy should soon be roaring back to its previously sluggish pace. The appointment of Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense is just the latest indicator that we haven’t seen the last of cuts to the defense budget, the drops in inventory investments and exports can’t easily be explained by any temporary circumstances, and the phenomenal 85.2 percent increase in dividend income that kept the decline from being much worse is also a “one-off” caused by investors trying to get ahead of the coming economy-slowing tax hikes, but Ashworth and his many re-Tweeters can be forgiven their incurable optimism.
If you’re not convinced by such happy talk, the Democrats have a back-up argument that it’s all the Republicans’ fault. White House press secretary Jay Carney helpfully explained that investors were frightened by the appalling spectacle of Republicans in the House of Representatives balking at the president’s prudent plan of massive tax hikes and endless deficit spending during the recent “fiscal cliff” negotiations, and he even blamed the defense cuts on those notoriously anti-military Republicans. The reason the Republicans insist on such shenanigans, Carney further explained, is to make sure that “tax loopholes remain in place for corporate jet owners.”
Carney was not asked to explain why Obama’s never-ending stimulus is still needed if the latest report indicates that the private sector continued to chug along despite a purported decrease in government spending, which is a shame, because we would have enjoyed hearing it. We’ll likely have to settle for more illegal immigrants, gun-grabbing, and Super Bowl hyperbole, and none of it will be quite so much fun.

— Bud Norman

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The Woman at the Store

One of the dreariest duties of the daily newspaper reporter is the “man on the street” interview. Newspaper editors love to have the resulting quotes in a story, partly because of a belief that it gives a reader some sense of what the average person is thinking about an issue, mostly because they don’t have to harass the random passersby themselves, yet there is little justification for this strange journalistic tradition. The small number of people a reporter can pester before deadline doesn’t amount to a representative sampling of public opinion, the reader is usually an average person himself and is therefore more interested in what better informed sources have to say, and the quotes are almost always banal.
Every now and then, though, a story will contain a quote from some purportedly typical person that actually makes a pertinent point. An excellent example can be found in the twelfth paragraph of a recent Reuters story about how the possibility of the government going over “the fiscal cliff” is affecting Christmas sales. A Linda Hampton, identified only as a New Yorker found shopping at a Best Buy store, is reported to have remarked that “It would be a disaster. Our taxes will go up. But I think our president will step in.”
This is the extent of Hamilton’s contribution to the story, so there is no knowing if the reporters questioned her further about her opinion, but we would have been interested to hear why she has such a touching faith in the president. It seems to us that a plunge over the “fiscal cliff” would result in across-the-board tax hikes that provide the president with more money to dole out to his preferred constituencies, as well as cuts to the defense budget that the president ardently desires yet would otherwise be unlikely to achieve, and so long as people such as Hamilton are so trusting of his intentions he will he gain political advantage from the resulting economic catastrophe. It would have been worth a drive to the Best Buy to hear why she is confident the president will “step in” and save the country from something that redounds so completely to his benefit.
Obama’s boundless empathy for the common man, probably. The president often speaks of it, and the papers have all confirmed it, so perhaps that’s where Hamilton got the idea. There’s no discerning Obama’s concern from the consequences of his policies, which have left the common man poorer, more dependent on government, and less free, but the damning statistics that quantify this decline get less coverage than the good intentions. The common men who are ponying up for the Obama’s multi-million dollar Hawaiian vacation can be assured they will repaid in empathy.
Even the most reliably liberal news media are hinting at Obama’s willingness to go over the cliff, but that’s the kind of complicated and dull story that Hamilton might be too busy to read. Although she’s obviously not one of the many people that the Reuters reporters no doubt spoke with who had never heard of a “fiscal cliff,” we suspect that her news-reading is not so far-ranging that it has brought her into contact with any doubts about the president’s good faith. This does indeed qualify her as a typical American, and as much as it pains us to hear it’s useful to know what’s she thinking. Forewarned is, after all, forearmed.

— Bud Norman