Sunday, September 18, 2011

Time to Panic

Marshall Auerback

Today’s unemployment data suggests that we are experiencing something far worse than a mere “bump in the road”, as our President described it last month. In fact, if last month was the time to panic, as Stephanie Kelton argued here, then today’s data should create real palpitations in the White House. This isn’t just a “bump,” but a fully-fledged New York City style pot hole. Dig a bit deeper into the data and it looks absolutely awful: The household measure of employment fell by -445,000. This measure of employment which is never revised now shows no employment growth over the last five months and very negative employment growth over the last three. But it gets worse: The work week was down one tenth. Overtime was down one tenth. The labor participation rate at 64.1% was the lowest since 1984. The collective embrace of fiscal austerity has gone beyond perverse. It's as if Josef Mengele was reborn as an economist, working on some weird new social experiment to inflict the maximum amount of damage on the maximum amount of people. It’s a sick variation on that old joke:
Patient: “Doctor, it hurts when I do this.”
Doctor: “Then keep doing it.”

Twenty eight developed governments have moved to get the oil price down to save the global economic recovery. Professional investors, speculators and fellow traveler manipulators have given these governments the finger over the last week and a half by bidding the oil price up. Given this report and the terrible front end economic data coming out of Europe lately, these governments had better find a way to keep food and fuel prices from taking off once again or its Great Recession Part II right around the corner. But, hey, what's the worry? Just a bump in the road! Let's cut some more government spending (Social Security looks to be the next target) because of course the realization that we are “being responsible” about no longer “living beyond our means” will do wonders to restore confidence and get us out of the ditch in which 95% of the world finds itself. Or so our President will no doubt be telling us if and when he “celebrates” a deal on the debt ceiling. In reality, the only people who ought to be celebrating are the GOP hopefuls in the upcoming Presidential election, one of whom looks increasingly likely to turn Barack Obama into a one-term President.

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