To conjure a feeling of happier times, I recently went to a concert given by rock legend Tom Petty. It was hard not to notice that his band is called the "Heartbreakers." Read on, and I'll detail the point in a way many of you will identify with.
It's been months since I wrote in this column that our economic woes were not going to end anytime soon. That was generally a different prognosis than many, more upbeat economists and analysts were providing.
Now, months after the $862 billion stimulus bill and the promise that it would tamp down unemployment to less than 8 percent, that rate is closer to 10 percent. The new government spending was supposed to spur the economy. All it has spurred is the federal debt, which is now a record $13.2 trillion after a 23 percent jump. The latest spending splurge was a cool $24 billion for "state bailouts" (read: jobs for teachers, a key Democratic Party constituency). And who will bail out Washington when the printing presses run out of green ink?
The Federal Reserve has come out with the news that more than $1.8 trillion in capital is sitting idle because businesses are too uncertain about the economic and government-regulatory future to risk putting their money on the line by investing it.
New polls show voters more disenchanted with elected officials now than in a long while. Most of this political animosity is directed at Democrats, but disapproval of Republicans is also very high.
Here's the situation in its essentials: Small businesses can't get loans. They have sluggish cash flow at best. And they are coming to realize that the reels of government red tape they are up against in the coming years may drown them in another kind of red -- red ink.
Many of these businesses are owned by men and women who likely will be moving to a higher tax rate than the one they're in now. They'll be forced to fire employees to keep their own income at adequate levels. Over half of the American workforce is employed by these small businesses. The end of this could be catastrophic.
Corporate America has a reckoning coming, too. Wall Street has been riding high, but with blinkers on. Only now are some of these economic kingpins coming to see what the Obama administration and the Democrat-controlled Congress have wrought. They have embedded into both the new health care reform laws and the new financial reform laws so many hidden costs and so much hidden bureaucracy that the same financiers that used to toast Obama are starting to despise him.
The market looked good this year, yes. But compared to what? Last year. And last year would make any year look good by contrast.
General Motors has made a profit. But that came out of our pockets. And who will show up this fall to buy the cars GM has built to please the Democrats and their "green" allies? For that matter, who will take a fall vacation? And what will Santa leave under the tree this year? Lumps of coal, sad to say.
Some have labeled columnists like me unrealistic doomsday prophets. Of course, most of these more seemingly measured and optimistic voices belong to those who enjoy fat paychecks, limo rides and plush apartments or homes in Manhattan or Washington.
I have something to tell all of them -- from someone who has a payroll and doesn't live in a bubble. America is free falling. Worse, I can't honestly say when it might stop.
And let me be the first to declare it: We haven't suffered a great recession. Technical language aside, we are in a depression. And not even the Heartbreakers can take away the pain.
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