David Cox: The glass half-full

Column by David Cox
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As I read these pages each week, I get the impression I may be alone in thinking things are looking up. Many will disagree, but I believe our national glass is filling up. Here’s why.

Last week, the federal government announced job increases of nearly 300,000 for the month. That’s important news for nearly 300,000 fellow citizens; but it says still more. It refutes, first, the doom-and-gloom crowd. Two weeks ago on these pages, our Congressman asked the standard GOP question, “Where are the jobs?” He observed that 3 million were lost since the stimulus program began. Well, now 1/10 of them have appeared—in just one month. Not bad.

It says, second, that maybe our economy really has turned a corner. Until last week’s Greek tragedy on Wall Street, when traders seemed to fear America’s going the way of Athens in fiscal meltdown, the stock market has been soaring. Corporations are making money. In our Rockbridge area, Visitor Center registrations were up in the first weeks of April by 72% over the same period a year ago. Not bad.

What’s more, merchants are telling me that business has improved from lows of last summer. That may not be any more universal than the jobs situation, but it all bodes well.

One of the big drains on everyone’s economy has been skyrocketing costs of health care. Talk about unsustainable, insurance hikes of up to 40% a year, as proposed in some areas, rank at the top. Comes now the reform bill, passed amidst controversy as what welcomed Social Security and Medicare. Yes, the law will have its problems. Yes, it must be tweaked as we find out what works and what doesn’t. But if nothing else it is the first major attempt in decades to confront a horrendous problem threatening not only our economy but also people’s lives.

Now Congress has agreed, bipartisanly, to confront the damage done on, and arguably by, Wall Street. Letting bulls run loose in a financial china shop guarantees that precious treasures will get crunched; and so it happened. The struggle will be how to harness the power of bulls while constraining them enough to keep them from goring the rest of us. As with health care, watch for contention; but at least there’s a consensus that something really has to be done to protect the economy from the excesses of the last decade.

Almost lost amidst the controversies was the President’s initiative to limit nuclear arms, both in an agreement with Russia and in a policy—virtually identical to that hardly-dovelike Dwight D. Eisenhower promulgated in 1957—to restrict their use. Mr. Obama pledged, basically, not to nuke others unless they try to nuke us. And that, together with lowering the number of bombs in the world, might make the earth just a little bit safer, and, incidentally, the cost of defense just a bit cheaper. Let’s hope.

You may also have missed hearing that bailout money is being repaid with interest. The $800 billion drawdown is now like $87 billion, maybe less. Might we eke out a profit?

Meanwhile, a high-level group that includes members—including congressmen—from both parties is exploring how to lower the deficit. Washington, like Richmond, is great at studying, not so much in enacting the solutions these studiers propose, so we’ll see. To make any difference, they’ll have to go beyond everyday spending on wars and weapons of questionable usefulness, bank bailouts and subsidies to oil companies and agribusinesses which have no business getting them. They’ll have to probe the tenderest spots in our national anatomy, like Social Security and Medicare. For Dems and ’Pubs, confronting entitlements will be a painful job indeed.

Of course, one help in bringing down the relative size of the debt will be expanding the economy. That’s where we differ from Greece. The U.S. can grow, and is growing, in ways that Greece cannot. After World War II our debt, proportionately larger than today’s, got smaller not because we paid it down, but because our economy prospered so much. Yes, I’d like to see reducing it, as in the good old days of Bill Clinton; even more, I’d like to see the economy expand, because that helps everyone.

To read some, you’d think the national glass was almost empty. I think it’s at least half full, and, even better, getting fuller all the time.

Let’s hope.


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