2009-01-01 / This Week's Attitude

This Week's Attitude

Politics Must Yield To Cure Nation's Ailing Economy
By Neil S. Friedman

Economics was never my forte. I only took a few college courses that were required to earn credits towards a degree. But, as the nation's economy experienced a yearlong tailspin, I made an effort to understand some of the complexities of the current crisis. To a degree, I now comprehend the widespread dilemma, yet it boggles the mind how once respected corporations and institutions incited the bursting of the economic bubble, due to irresponsible fiscal management that culminated in the financial woes we now face.

Heck, the only welcome sign for consumers lately has been the dramatic decline of prices at the pump, which have fallen dramatically since a summertime high near $4.50 per gallon in these parts.

Recent figures showed that unemployment across the nation is at an alarming 26-year high. Forecasters direly predict it may well worsen and possibly hit double digits by the end of 2009. During the George Bush presidency job creation has been at its worse since the end of World War II.

That gloomy news is in addition to disappointing data on home sales and the closing of over 150,000 retail store nationwide with more than that projected this year. Then there's ongoing weak consumer spending, which was less than anticipated for the holiday shopping season. It was so awful during the customary post-Thanksgiving period that retailers staged a second Black Friday after Christmas slashing prices 70-80 percent in some cases. Nevertheless, it did not have spark the necessary consumer frenzy needed to stimulate the economy.

Without a doubt, Job One for President Barack Obama has got be practical policies to turn things around for the short term. Once that is established, he and his advisers must chart procedures — similar to the methods used to guide the country out of the Great Depression — to make sure there's less of a chance of it recurring long after he's left the White House. Thirdly, it must somehow be determined how those reputable companies failed to see or merely overlooked the warnings of the dilemma they fueled due to a careless lack of supervision and accountability.

Of course, no matter what the government does, Americans have to wise up, too. Excessive consumer debt must be whittled down. Families and individuals can't keep amassing credit card charges that, in many cases, are going to take years to pay off at exorbitant interest levels. While free-lending banks are primarily responsible for the continuing mortgage foreclosure crisis, American Dream-seeking consumers consciously took on expenditures they knew — or should have known — they couldn't possibly afford. Consequently, the government has to extend bailout relief to strapped homeowners — as it has for once prosperous corporations — because the more who can't meet their obligations, the longer the economy will decline.

The Democrats had a big hand in the failing economy despite the fact they didn't have a majority in Congress until two years ago. But the Republicans' fingerprints are there, too. Conservatives welcomed ill-advised deregulation, ignoring the fact that the free-spending wheeler-dealers at the top of the financial food chain were, by and large, greedily seeking to remain filthy rich as they apparently maneuvered markets to their advantage.

And look where it's got us!

No matter who's at fault, our elected representatives should store those spats for the next campaign and shape a fresh, reliable national economic strategy. Barack Obama has a unique opportunity to assert the leadership the country sorely needs and what many Americans anticipate. He must insist Congress yields to traditional, futile bipartisan politics and urge them to chart financial reform with an aggressive, far-sighted economic course, strict government oversight and an end to lax accountability.

When Congress moved swiftly to bail out companies and institutions in order to bring stability to our troubled financial markets, it's hard to believe they failed to nail down a pledge to account for how the Wall Street bailout taxpayer money would be spent. When I learned of this while viewing a cable news talk show, I was flabbergasted.

Would a bank ever approve a business or consumer loan without fiscal supervision? All the same, no one's watching the money!

How could our representatives agree to such a reckless plan? What were they thinking? Or were they only thinking of future fat cat donations required for their next campaign?

Well, as the economy tanked and I learned a little about how and why it happened. I know more about how our capitalist system works than I did a year ago, but the chief lesson I came away with is that America's economy is in poor health due to sloppy, inadequate oversight. Still, the cure won't be quick, painless or uncomplicated, but with the proper remedy and gradual rehabilitation, the health of the nation's economy will be restored.

Politics and egos, mind you, must take a back seat and our representatives have got to shape a sensible approach to resurrect the nation's financial system, as competent economic doctors provide a prescription and treatment for what ails it.

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