Reason to Panic No. 2: ‘Shared Sacrifice’ Assumes There’s Something Left to Give
Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council and counselor to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, also sat in with us last week. He was very clinical and rational when talking about the budget issues plaguing Washington. But again, there seemed to be a disconnect with the severity of the situation for many Americans.
In a phrase, Sperling said he is working towards “shared sacrifice” where legislators “go along with things they would not agree with in an ideal world because the benefit of compromise is better for the country.”
If you’ve read my article running Uncle Sam’s $2.2 trillion budget like a normal American family, you understand that it is simply impossible to fix the current deficit without severe cuts and severe compromises. So, I respect Sperling’s pragmatism.
However, the fatal flaw with the Obama administration’s approach to the deficit – or the job market for that matter – is that every consumer, business and even governmental department has the wherewithal to suffer through a little while longer, or perhaps to give up a little more in the hopes of a long-term recovery taking shape in the years ahead.
As Yahoo! Finance columnist Daniel Gross put it in his recap of the Personal Finance Online Summit, welcome to the “grind-it-out” economy.
That logic overlooks people who are already just scraping by, out of work or underwater on their mortgage. What about the idea of giving consumers more money to spend and businesses a break so they can expand – instead of just belt-tightening?
And on a related note, must we be forced to sacrifice our way out of this hole? While some Democrats deride so-called “trickle-down” economics, the $787 billion stimulus pushed through only weeks after Obama took office is proof that those on the left believe there is a way to find growth through focusing on the demand/spending side of the equation.
For now, it seems the Obama administration’s focus is on asking the American economy to do more with less. But for some people, the prospect of doing anything with less is a gruesome one.
Reason to Panic No. 3: We Need Results, Not Cheerleading
Perhaps most puzzling were the number of times Obama administration officials called out specific businesses or programs as beacons of growth in these gloomy economic times. But in my first year of journalism school, I learned a basic concept I have never forgotten: Every story, every paragraph and hopefully every sentence should answer the question, “so what?”
Goolsbee pointed out the economy has gained a million net jobs over the past six months. So what? The worst downturn in decades cut loose as many as eight million workers. That’s nice, but the first step in a very long (and slow) process.
Gene Sperling said, “We believe it is important for confidence in the economy to show significant progress on deficit reduction in the very near future.” No kidding! That’s like saying you believe fixing the job market or the housing market is important. Where are the specifics of said progress?
Aneesh Chopra, the administration’s chief technology officer, pointed to programs “with a lowercase P” that were a “call to arms,” where businesses were called on to mentor entrepreneurs. He also stressed efforts to hold town-hall style meetings and find out the real challenges to small businesses – specifically citing an arcane immigration Visa restriction. So what? Did we really call a summit to convince skilled journalists that a pat on the back and a few skilled folks from Asia or Europe are going to turn things around for American businesses?
There were plenty of other instances: hand-wringing over gasoline prices, but no plan to control crude, lamentations over the depth of the hole we are in, but no urgency to see the light of day, and so on.
I expected political posturing and sound bites at such an event, seeing as it was sponsored and hosted by the Obama administration. But to be continually confronted with vague platitudes at a time when the nation seems to be losing its momentum and risking a double-dip, it was pretty disappointing to behold.
More From My White House Visit
Lest you think I have an axe to grind, I also took a dig through my notes to find the most inspiring exchanges from my recent White House visit. For those looking for reasons to support the president’s efforts, I’ve compiled a list of surprising ways Obama may be fixing the economy. No one pretends that our current economic mess is an easy problem to fix, and I certainly don’t claim to have the answers. I urge you to read this companion article for a full account of the interviews I participated in at the Personal Finance Online Summit.
There are also a handful of other stories that have come out of my time at the event that I hope you’ve had a chance to read, including:
- 7 High Growth Sectors the White House Is Watching
- 3 Reasons Elizabeth Warren Could Be Good for Banks
- 4 Retirement Tips From the President and His Top Advisor
As you can see, I like lists …
And again, if you haven’t yet read my companion piece to this article, 3 Surprising Ways Obama Is Fixing the Economy, follow this link and check it out.