Mort Zuckerman has a sobering look at how much bad news there is about the economy and our country’s economic prospects:
A sense of malaise is pervasive. As the economist David Rosenberg points out, the list of statistics now available should scare everybody: 1 in every 10 American homeowners missed a mortgage payment in the first quarter, a record; roughly 1 in 6 Americans are either unemployed or underemployed or have left the labor force; over 4 in 10 unemployed Americans have been out of work for at least six months; 1 in 4 Americans with a mortgage have negative equity in their homes; only 1 in 10 Americans believe that their incomes will rise in the next six months; only 1 in 5 see business conditions improving during the same period; only 1 in 8 Americans believe that current government policy is actually helping the economy. And the consumer confidence index remains near or below its lows of the previous four recessions. Household debt, which was about 30 percent in relation to disposable income in 1950 and went to 60 percent in 1970, is now 125 percent. And it might take as long as a decade to return to the earlier, safer range. The public’s aversion to risk is reflected in mutual fund flows, which indicate a substantial transfer of funds toward fixed-income securities and away from strategies that look for capital appreciation and assume higher risk.
All this suggests that it isn’t going to be easy to turn around the economy, and certainly expensive government gimmicks (like Cash-for-Clunkers or the pork-filled stimulus bill) aren’t going to do the trick.
Instead, policymakers need to focus on the fundamentals of making it easier for the private sector to grow, by reducing government’s burden on business and individuals (through lower taxes and less burdensome regulations and mandates) and on the economy generally by reducing the deficit. It won’t be quick or easy, but getting the basics right is the only way to turn things around for the long-term.