Thomas Sowell

The truest thing that Senator John McCain said during this election campaign is what got him into the most trouble: "The economy is sound."

"Sound" does not mean bullet-proof. Nor does it mean that everything is going wonderfully at the moment or that nothing needs to be done.

You may be as sick as a dog from having eaten the wrong thing. But that does not mean that you need to have your arm amputated or to receive massive doses of morphine. In other words, your body may be perfectly sound-- and radical medical treatment can do more lasting damage than your temporary suffering will.

The political left has always known how to exploit temporary economic problems to create lasting institutions reflecting their ideology. The "progressives" did that during the brief time that America was involved in the First World War, less than a year and a half.

In that brief time, they clamped on all kinds of economic controls and even restrictions on free speech that led to landmark Supreme Court cases.

When the Great Depression of the 1930s brought many of those same "progressives" back to power, led by one of the "progressives" from Woodrow Wilson's administration, Franklin D. Roosevelt, they brought the same mindset to government again, calling themselves "liberals," now that the label "progressives" had been discredited by their previous actions.

By the end of the 20th century, "liberals" had again discredited themselves, to the point where they went back to calling themselves "progressives" to escape their past, much as people do when they declare bankruptcy.

Wars, economic crises and other disruptions all provide opportunities for the left to seize on current problems to create enduring changes in the institutions of society. That is what we are witnessing today.

The media have hyped current economic problems to the point where you might think we were heading for a replay of the Great Depression of the 1930s. They have been dying to use the word "recession" but there is a clear definition of recession-- two consecutive quarters of negative growth-- and we have yet to reach that.

If the meaning of words can be changed to suit political convenience, then discussions become an exercise in futility.

Official data show that the output of the economy in the most recent quarter is down-- by less than one-half of one percent-- but at last the media have one of those two quarters required to qualify as a recession.


Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

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