Monday, April 14, 2008

Will Wonders What the Fuss is About

George Will's Sunday column in the Washington Post wonders how the current economic difficulties became a "crisis":

During presidential elections, when candidates postulate this or that "crisis" for which each is the indispensable and sufficient cure, economic hypochondria is encouraged, so a sense of suffering is rampant. Recently the Wall Street Journal, like Joseph Conrad contemplating the Congo, surveyed today's economic jungle and cried, "The horror! The horror!"

Declines in housing values and the stock market are causing some Americans to delay retirement. A Kansas City man had been eager to retire to Arizona but now, the Journal says, "figures he'll stay put for another couple of years." He is 59.

So, this is a facet of today's hydra-headed "crisis" -- the man must linger in the labor force until, say, 62. That is the earliest age at which a person can, and most recipients do, begin collecting Social Security.

I have maintained for some time that this is not a recession (at least not yet) and it amazes me the rhetoric used, by politicians in particular, to describe the current environment. Most people are doing just fine and I suspect that Will is right when he says:

The politics of this may, however, be more complex than the compassion chorus supposes. The 96 percent of mortgage borrowers who are fulfilling their commitments, often by scrimping, may be grumpy bystanders if many of the other 4 percent -- those who found the phrase "variable rate" impenetrably mysterious -- are eligible for ameliorations of their obligations.

Politicians who believe they can be elected by pandering to those who are having a tough time may find that the potential votes in that pool are rather skimpy.

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