America’s “New Normal”

Obama promised to bring ‘change’ to America. Actually, his policies of taxation, government borrowing/spending, and wealth redistribution/regulation are merely an extension of what the government has been doing for decades. We keep doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.

In one insidious respect, psychologically speaking, Obama has helped bring about some change. It’s not a good one, though.

Consider the latest statistics on unemployment.

According to the government’s own statistics, the number of working-age adults in the labor force, called the ‘participation rate,’ fell to 63.3 percent last month. This is the lowest participation rate since May of 1979.

Mixed in with this news is the seemingly good news that the unemployment rate dropped to a four-year low of 7.6 percent in March from 7.7 in February.

However, people without a job who stop looking for one are no longer counted as unemployed. That’s why the U.S. unemployment rate dropped in March despite weak hiring. If the 496,000 who left the labor force last month had still been looking for jobs, the unemployment rate would have risen to 7.9 percent in March.

It’s all in how you present the numbers. The government is actually releasing all the relevant information. But the politicians who keep doing the same thing to harm our economic strength they have always done—raising taxes, regulating or even nationalizing whole industries such as health care—are counting on us not to notice. Or not to hold them accountable for what they’re doing to us. They’re counting on the media not to report all the relevant facts—much of the media won’t—and, most of all, they’re counting on the general public not to pay attention.

In plain English, the unemployment rate has gone down. It has gone down only slightly, by a fraction of a percentage point. More importantly, it has gone down only if you stop counting the number of people who are giving up on employment.

Imagine a business operating with these kinds of numbers: ‘Profit is up—if you ignore the fact that we’re producing half of what we produced last year, because fewer people are buying our product.’

Imagine if a school operated this way: ‘Test scores are up—if you leave out the increasing number of students who are failing, and only considering the scores of those who get a C or better.’

Based on the results of the last election and the probable results of the next one—not that we really get a substantive choice with these two parties—we’re seeing in the United States a ‘new normal.’ At one time, as recently as a decade or two ago, national elections usually hinged on the employment rate. If unemployment went up, or failed to go down, a sitting President or party had little chance of winning reelection, absent some kind of military or national security disaster.

That appears to be changing. Most people seem passively content with an economy that by most indications is stagnating. It all seems to boil down to an attitude of: ‘Well, it could be worse.’

A majority of voters seem to believe that so long as things don’t get too bad, then we can’t complain. ‘As long as I still have my job, it’s OK.’ It’s ironic, because the very same people we vote into office or consider as moral leaders condemn Americans every chance they get for ‘selfishness.’ Every holiday, it’s either the Pope or the President shouting, ‘Selfishness is bad. America is the most selfish of all. Get yourself to a soup kitchen, at once!’

Yet isn’t the belief, ‘As long as I still have my job, it’s OK’ a selfish attitude, by their own definition? Actually, to not care about a growing and thriving economy is, by my definition, a selfless attitude. It does not serve any of our personal interests to live in an economy that is failing to grow like it might, or like it should, any more than it would serve our interests to live in stagnation and poverty.

Prosperity is good for everyone. If you’re making billions of dollars in profit, it’s obviously good for you. But even if you’re living off of relatives, perhaps through no fault of your own, say due to an illness or an unfortunate accident, then your dependence on this charity means you had better hope those you’re depending on are thriving in a growing economy.

Even if you believe in government transfers of wealth—I don’t, but most do—then you had better support a thriving and growing economy so that the funds will be there, from taxes, to pay for it all. And don’t think that a private economy will continue to produce the results you’re counting on, no matter how much you regulate, subsidize competitors, tax or otherwise throttle the hated capitalists who pay all your bills.

Regardless of what you’re lulled into believing, government cannot keep borrowing nonexistent money or artificially inflating the currency to the end of time—especially if the economy continues to stagnate, as it is.

I don’t like the new normal in America. Although I still see evidence of good things happening, of technology improving or innovative streaks here and there, it’s troubling to see a growing complacency take hold.

America was always known as the place where most expected human knowledge and material innovation and comfort to improve from one generation to the next. In the age of smart phones and ever-improving technology, that still has not stopped. But the continued expansion of human flourishing was never guaranteed, and was never the norm in human history until this several hundred-year period sparked by the United States. If ‘contentment’ means indifference to hard facts, such as the full context of truth about unemployment numbers, then it’s dangerous to self-interest and society alike. This kind of inactive, non-thinking faux serenity is not the way to preserve what we’ve had and, more importantly, to keep growing and evolving into something better and better all the time.

Perhaps a lowering participation rate in the job market is good news for a government whose primary mission is to feed, clothe and medically treat us, and to gain power over people through doing so. But it’s not good news for a people who are to continue to survive and flourish, with the great benefits that only economic growth and prosperity can bring them.


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