In political terms, it doesn't really matter what caused the current economic crisis. Nor does it matter that it is worldwide. In a democracy, or at any rate in the United States, the party in power in that situation gets sacked. And maybe it should -- after all, in a two-party system, the only choice the voters have if things go wrong is to switch parties.
So the Republican Party, which had the misfortune to be in the White House when this blow fell, is going to suffer the consequences on Election Day. It knows this very well and is braced for bad news.
The Democrats already control both Houses of Congress, and their margins in both chambers will increase, probably substantially. Obama will beat McCain handily. And the Democratic margins in state houses all over the country will increase. In the long run, however, this won't spell the End of America. On the contrary, it will simply set up the Republicans for a spirited comeback in the congressional elections of 2010, and quite possibly for a return to the White House in 2012 or 2116.
But now is the Democrats' time, and they can be forgiven if they intend to enjoy it. It doesn't matter that there's no reason to think the economy will get much better on their watch; the downturn began before they took over, and can continue to be blamed on the Republicans for a while. In due course, the economy will come back, as it always does, and the political balance will reassert itself.
With the Democrats running things, you can bet that government spending will increase, probably substantially, and that will have the temporary exhilarating effect that increased spending always does. The added debt will further cripple the national fisc, but at too much of a remove to be blamed effectively on those who caused it. The U.S. economy will simply shoulder the added burden and soldier on.
It's a serious question whether the world economy, whose poor health has caused this crisis, is well enough understood to enable the major powers to dig their way out of it. There are, of course, economists by the carload who can tell us exactly what the problems are and how to remedy them. But they disagree noisily among themselves, and the truth probably is that any economic process -- certainly one as complex as the global economy -- is going to experience ups and downs that are beyond the control of any cabal of "experts" that could possibly be assembled.
If this description of the situation is even approximately accurate, the question arises whether anything can be done to ameliorate it. Certainly, every effort ought to be made to keep the international economy as healthy as possible, with each nation contributing what it can to the gross world product. This means tamping down international disputes, and -- above all -- wars. In the world as presently constructed, that obligation must fall primarily on the United States, with the important help of the other responsible major powers. There is no deadlier threat to international peace and stability than the conviction, on the part of some willful national leader, that he can improve his country's prosperity at the expense of another nation.
If that is the case, where are the threats today? We can probably count ourselves lucky that there are none. There is no Nazi Germany bent on expansion, let alone a Soviet Union determined to spread the Communist system and philosophy around the world. Even Communist China, which probably could present the gravest threat in this direction if it were so inclined, seems disposed to concentrate on strengthening itself internally, at least for the time being.
So let's be grateful that the world is relatively stable, for the present.
There are real threats out there, but they are for the future.