Not surprisingly, The New York Times headline the following day was typical: "Obama Takes Oath and Nation in Crisis Embraces the Moment." But there was another attention-getting headline in that same Times edition, this one on the business page. No, not the story titled "Bank Crisis Deepens: No Quick Fix Likely from Obama Team," a headline that ingeniously gives both juice to the crisis and time to the Obama team. Rather, the column next to it was titled, "It's Bad, But 1982 Was Worse."
What's that? Times writer David Leonhardt, having solicited what he called a "broad measure of the job market ... stretching back to 1970" from economists at the Bureau of Labor Statistics, comes to a shocking conclusion. His research, he writes, "shows, for starters, that the economy is not yet as bad as it was in the early 1980s. It's not even that close to being as bad. The ranks of the unemployed and underemployed, controlling for the size of the population, were much larger in 1982 than today."
Other "indicators of crisis," as Obama called them in his inaugural, were worse back then as well. "Home sales," Leonhardt writes, at their worst in 1982, "were 30 percent lower than they are even now." Additionally, inflation was in double digits, as was the prime interest rate, which peaked at 21.5 percent.
I found myself wondering how Ronald Reagan, entering office in 1981 with high inflation (12 percent) and unemployment (7.5 percent) higher than today (7.2 percent), and a contracting GDP approached hard times. In what turned out to be his first inaugural address, he, too, used the word "crisis" to describe "the economic ills" Americans were suffering. Noting that these ills were a long time coming and wouldn't go away "in days, weeks or months," he said: "But they will go away. They will go away because we, as Americans, have the capacity now, as we have had in the past, to do whatever needs to be done to preserve this last and greatest bastion of freedom."
"In this present crisis," he continued, "government is not the solution to our problem."
There's a twist. In this present crisis, according to the Obama administration and its stimulus-package trillions, government isn't just the solution, it's our only hope.
That's change for you.