The Right Opinion

It's ... Back! The Misery Index Rides Again

By Paul Greenberg · Jul. 8, 2011

Remember the Misery Index? It tends to reappear whenever the economy exhibits a couple of unwelcome trends in unusual tandem: not just a high unemployment rate but more inflation, too. Talk about a double whammy.

Add those two figures together and you get the Misery Index. So if you combine the current 9.1 unemployment rate with the 3.6 inflation rate, the rate of misery in the American economy is 12.7. The country hasn’t seen that kind of number in almost 30 years.

The president indelibly associated with the Misery Index is Jimmy Carter, who made a talking point of it in the long-ago presidential election of 1976. He said the index was too darned high – it stood at a painful 13.6 percent back then. But by the time Mr. Carter ran for re-election as president in 1980, he had managed to raise it to almost 22 percent. And he would lose the White House to Ronald Reagan.

The Misery Index stayed under double digits from the early 1990s until the Great Recession struck in 2008. Now it’s moved into Jimmy Carter territory, and that’s not good news for Barack Obama. Or the country.

To make bad news worse, the International Monetary Fund says the American economy isn’t going to grow as fast as the IMF had once predicted. Not that its previous idea of “fast” was exactly record-breaking. It was more, well … slow.

A couple of months ago, the IMF predicted that this country’s Gross Domestic Product would grow by 2.8 percent this year and 2.9 percent next. That’s not 5 percent growth, but after a painful recession, some of us would take it happily. Now the IMF says to look for growth more like 2.5 percent this year and 2.7 next.

But even that slow growth rate could get slower if the United States and European nations don’t start getting our/their debt under control. See Greece, where the rioting has already begun. Portugal may be next, then Ireland, and then … well, the prognosis for Europe’s more troubled economies is not the happiest.

There is some good news: Americans, including some of our leading politicians and pressure groups, are starting to talk about the dangers of government spending, deficits and debt. Even the AARP, formerly the American Association of Retired Persons, is now open to trimming Social Security – if only down the road and by taking long overdue steps, like raising the retirement age. It’s always a good thing when the AARP notices reality, finally.

There’s also a faint hope that the Republicans might actually get some real cuts in federal spending in exchange for raising the debt limit. Then again, they could just settle for cosmetic savings, aka smoke-and-mirrors. Suspicion grows that those serious negotiations in Washington over cutting the budget aren’t really serious.

If Barack Obama were serious about creating jobs, he wouldn’t still be blocking the free trade agreements that his predecessor successfully negotiated with South Korea, Panama and Colombia, and so increase both our export trade and theirs. For commerce is not a zero-sum game but can benefit all, especially the American worker.

If Barack Obama were serious about reducing unemployment, he’d call off his hounds at the National Labor Relations Board and get them to stop blocking that new Boeing plant in South Carolina. But his appointees to that board seem determined to do a favor for the president’s union friends and loyal supporters up in Seattle, who are hell-bent on taking revenge for Boeing’s daring to invest in a right-to-work state like South Carolina.

If Barack Obama were serious about encouraging American business to invest in this country instead of overseas, he’d make the Bush tax cuts permanent so industry would know it could count on a tax code that didn’t change with a president’s every political whim or maneuver.

If Barack Obama were serious about simplifying health care in this country, he wouldn’t be granting waivers from ObamaCare just to thousands of favored unions, companies, special interests, and even whole states he’d like to carry in next year’s presidential election. Instead, he’d treat everybody alike and grant the whole country a waiver from his confusing health-care “reform,” which still isn’t clear and isn’t proving much of a reform, either.

This economy is sputtering like an engine without enough fuel to operate at its most efficient. And like a gasoline engine, the American economy can’t be expected to run smoothly on just hot air. Not even the presidential brand.

© 2011 TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.