The deficit isn’t the only unfounded fear. I’ve written before about misguided inflation fear, but, for now, let me focus on a new issue that has suddenly begun to loom large in opinion pieces and remarks on talk shows: fear of a disastrous plunge in the dollar. (Who sends out the memos telling people what to worry about, and why don’t I get them?)
What you would never know from all the agitated dollar discussion is that the recent dollar slide is actually tiny compared with big drops in the past, notably under the administration of George W. Bush and during Ronald Reagan’s second term. And you’d also never know that those earlier dollar slides, far from hurting the economy, were beneficial, because they helped U.S. manufacturing compete on world markets.
Which brings me back to the destructive effect of focusing on invisible monsters. For the clear and present danger to the American economy isn’t what some people imagine might happen one of these days, it’s what is actually happening now.
Unemployment isn’t just blighting the lives of millions, it’s undermining America’s future. The longer this goes on, the more workers will find it impossible ever to return to employment, the more young people will find their prospects destroyed because they can’t find a decent starting job. It may not create excited chatter on cable TV, but the unemployment crisis is real, and it’s eating away at our society.
Yet any action to help the unemployed is vetoed by the fear-mongers. Should we spend modest sums on job creation? No way, say the deficit hawks, who threaten us with the purely hypothetical wrath of financial markets, and, in fact, demand that we slash spending now now now — which might well send us back into recession. Should the Federal Reserve do more to promote expansion? No, say the inflation and dollar hawks, who have been wrong again and again but insist that this time their dire warnings about runaway prices and a plunging dollar really will be vindicated.
So we’re paying a heavy price for Washington’s obsession with phantom menaces. By looking for trouble in all the wrong places, our political class is preventing us from dealing with the real crisis: the millions of American men and women who can’t find work.