Originally posted at Monty Pelerin's World,
The United States is more than four years into its form of economic purgatory. The government pronounced the recession over in June of 2009. That announcement does not conform with reality or even subsequent government suspect data. Even the Administration-friendly New York Times knows better:
Between June 2009, when the recession officially ended, and June 2011, inflation-adjusted median household income fell 6.7 percent, to $49,909, according to a study by two former Census Bureau officials. During the recession — from December 2007 to June 2009 — household income fell 3.2 percent.
To believe the recession ended requires a bizarro interpretation of economics where bad is actually good and good is actually bad.
21st Century politics sees no need for truth. When government believes itself to be responsible for the economy and convinces the people of that, it has put itself into a box. In a world where government claims credit for good things, bad things ultimately become their responsibility as well. Recessions are bad things which government should not have allowed to happen or should fix quickly.
The reality is that government does not create wealth or economic abundance. (They can create poverty, however.) When recessions occur, they threaten the myth of all powerful government. The first reaction of government is to do something regardless of whether something makes sense or not. The second phase is to declare the problem solved (in this case, claim the recession ended).
This kind of politics is dangerous on two counts. First, government risks what little credibility it has left (which I might say is not necessarily a bad thing). Second, it causes government to pursue policies which reinforce its lies. It is these policies which created the current economic crisis in the first place.
The country’s economic problems began decades ago. In trying to cover them up with economic interventions (stimuli), government actions prevented the economy from correcting the imbalances that caused slow growth. From a political standpoint, economic policies encouraged institutions and people to use debt to live beyond their means. The massive debt buildup in both the economy and the government hid the underlying problems and allowed them to grow ever larger and more malignant out of sight.
After decades of such interventions, the economy no longer is able to function efficiently. In order to remedy the problems, massive liquidations of debt and misallocated assets are necessary. There is no other way to achieve an economic cleansing. It may be possible to continue this economic charade with additional interventions, but there is a limit to how far it can be continued. Japan has achieved zombie existence for over two decades by refusing to face up to the imbalances in their economy. Our government has chosen the same course of “extend and pretend.” There is no hope for a recovery until something like another Great Depression liquidates the built-up imbalances.
No politician wants to be in office when that event occurs. Thus, they make matters worse for the country by continuing to spend money we don’t have to prop up an economy that cannot and should not be saved. Their goal is not to repair the economy but to ensure the most favorable terms for their own re-election. As a result they continue to savage the future of the country in order to protect their own present.
People will eventually regain control of their government. They always do. Unfortunately the process of history is slow and sometimes ugly. Multiple generations around the world have never known freedom. China and the Soviet Union are two examples that are just now transitioning toward freedom. Are we to enter some institutional dark ages where our grandchildren and their grandchildren do not experience freedom? It is possible because all governments prefer more power for themselves and less liberty for their citizens.
The required change is so great as to be analogous to an addict trying to break his habit. Most addicts have to hit rock-bottom before reality intrudes. In the case of the US, we are going to hit rock-bottom when the economy collapses. That is likely to be within the next ten years and could be at the front end of that estimate. This world-changing event may (at least temporarily) drive a stake through the heart of big, oppressive welfare-state governments.
There is no guarantee that government will shrink when this happens. Civil unrest is a likely outcome. Statists may attempt to use the crisis to further expand government. Martial law and other restraints are likely. Hitler used a similar situation to rise to power. Parts of the Constitution were emasculated under New Deal policies that “had to be done” to pull us out of the Depression. Of course, we never got out of the Depression until after the end of WWII.
Economic pain and suffering will be great. Yet the economic calamity is unavoidable. It was pre-ordained by years of government interventions. Mathematical and economic laws will not be avoided. As stated by Ludwig von Mises:
There is no means of avoiding the final collapse of a boom brought about by credit (debt) expansion. The alternative is only whether the crisis should come sooner as the result of a voluntary abandonment of further credit (debt) expansion, or later as a final and total catastrophe of the currency system involved.
We are coming off the biggest boom in the history of the world. If Mises was correct, and I believe he was, then Keynes was wrong (and I believe he was). Thus far all the Keynesian dollars expended have had little effect other than to make this country poorer. We are set up to have a Depression greater than the one in the 1930s.
A Depression is not a good thing. Yet in this case, it may be the one event that can prevent a chapter in future history books entitled “The Demise of the Great American Empire.” Unless citizens and politicians return to their senses, we will be both impoverished and living under tyranny.
A reaction opposite that of the 1930s is a hopeful outcome. Despite the recent election, government is increasingly seen to be the problem. It is no longer viewed reliable, trustworthy or as a solution. Freedom is deeply ingrained in the American culture and most of us recognize how much we have already lost. The resurgence of books such as “The Road to Serfdom,” “Atlas Shrugged” and others similar indicate the public is interested. Historically low poll numbers for all politicians and the rise of the Tea Party movement are further indicators. The economic trauma may provide the catalyst to return to the founders’ concept of government.
Totalitarianism needs the military. More than any other segment of society, the military respects and supports the Constitution. If push comes to shove, they are likely to defend the Constitution rather than the government.
Government has reduced itself to little more than an insolvent zombie, staggering around awaiting the coup de grace that will end its misery. The coming economic collapse is that executioner. When collapse happens, efforts to increase government are will occur. They must be resisted strongly. The love of freedom and the experience with big government should overcome decades-long madness. No matter how things evolve, in the history books of the far future, there can be no better title to describe our current situation than “The Myth of Government.”
If we must have a Depression, let it begin today. It will be hard and dangerous, but it may be the last chance to get our country back. When it happens, we must all think and behave like Founding Fathers. To paraphrase Rahm Emanuel, this crisis will be too important to waste.
The “greatest generation” handed us a gift and we fumbled it away by allowing government to run wild. We cannot turn this mess over to future generations. We must take our country back and remedy the problems.