Invincible Ignorance

Regarding the present economic apprehensions, may I counsel calm and good sense. As for those agitated voices in the chorus, ululating of our dire straits and even of depression and doom, remember they have been out there for years. Generally speaking, they are opportunistic liberals itching for power. It is not surprising that their lamentations are so frequent but that they are so monotonous, for they have yet to be occasioned by either depression or doom. A pause here, a pause there, otherwise the American economy just keeps growing.

At The American Spectator, we have maintained a department, "The Current Wisdom," wherein we have over the decades recorded the neurotic, albeit often opportunistic, jeremiads of these prophets of doom. In reviewing these lamentations, the perceptive reader will note two things: their failed prophecies and their unchanging bugaboos and rhetoric through all their head-on collisions with reality. In modern times, no political point of view has been more out of sync with the facts than liberalism. Yet somehow the liberal point of view endures, failed prophecies and all. To the liberal jeremiahs, America is forever on the hem of financial disaster, along with other calamities. Our bellicose foreign policy threatens worldwide cataclysm. We are destroying habitat, impoverishing the poor, and impeding the progress of "the developing countries" toward the happy condition of, say, Sweden.

As this is an election year — and there are problems in the economy, mainly in the financial sector — we are hearing ominous forecasts from the liberals as they plot a return to the White House. Their gruesome scenarios are chilling, but to those of us who have kept abreast of "The Current Wisdom" through the decades, the alarums are familiar to the point of tedium.

The other day in The Washington Post, there was a report that Sen. John McCain, presumptive Republican presidential candidate, had enlisted among his economic advisors former Sen. Phil Gramm, whom liberal critics are trying to implicate in the troubled subprime sector of the economy. In the Post story, former Labor Secretary Robert Reich described Gramm as an advocate of "dog eat dog capitalism."

Jared Bernstein, an economist who, like Reich, frets over free markets and volunteers his services to return the American economy to the delights of stagflation, is quoted as saying, "McCain is counting on people having very short memories" regarding the economy.

Well, I have a long memory. One of my favorite outbursts of liberal economic angst came after the Oct. 19, 1987, stock market swoon that itself came at the end of 59 straight months of economic growth. That, incidentally, brings to mind President Ronald Reagan’s joke that you could tell his economics were correct because derisive liberals "don’t call it Reaganomics anymore." In "The Current Wisdom," we recorded the mainstream liberal alarums. They were, as could be expected, hackneyed, hysterical and wrong. Here is Reich writing in The New York Times: "The binge is over. It couldn’t go on forever — the quick fortunes (is he thinking about his friend Hillary Clinton’s $100,000 killing in cattle futures?), the midnight raids and computer-driven program trades, the junk bonds, poison pills, leveraged buyouts, options — all the glitz and glamour, the danger and thrill. It’s over. … And the rest of us, who pretended not to notice, are left with the job of cleaning up the mess."

Those foolish words were uttered Oct. 22, 1987. Two days before, the Times editorialized: "In a statement issued last night, the White House asserted that the ‘underlying economy remains sound.’ With the fire alarm wailing on Wall Street and the country anxious for leadership, it gets an astonishing rerun of Herbert Hoover. When will Mr. Reagan start fighting the fire?" Actually, the economy in that last quarter of 1987 grew at 4.8 percent. Whether Reagan rode in on the hook and ladder, I cannot recall.

Newsweek that last week of October titled its news report "Panic 1987" and led with the sentence, "If it felt like the end of a world, that’s because it was: last week’s global crash has created a whole new financial reality." The news story droned on, "In disquieting echoes of Herbert Hoover, Reagan and his men proclaimed that ‘the economic fundamentals in this country remain sound.’"

Should I go on? The famous liberal economic pundit John Kenneth Galbraith wrote, "This debacle marks the last chapter of Reaganomics." Michael Kinsley wrote, "The Phillips Curve is about to boomerang upon us with a vengeance." New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis wrote, "The age of Reagan is over."

I believe you get my drift. The liberal chorus basically has been wrong about economics — certainly about economic setbacks — for a long time. Today’s White House is sounding a bit like the Reagan administration in 1987, claiming that the economy is fundamentally sound. Back in 1987, the economy continued to grow until the brief and shallow recession of 1991. Today I make no prediction, but it does seem that economic fundamentals remain sound. If I am right, I do not expect to be quoted by my liberal friends in the prosperous years ahead.


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