April 19, 2014

OPINION: Time to take off the rose-colored economy glasses

Danedri Thompson

dthompson@gardnernews.com

Our shaky economy appears to be growing slowly on sand instead of rock.
Finally, the American media is starting to report that although it appears the recession is behind us, there will be a new normal with minimal growth for years if not decades to come.

As a CNBC story so eloquently put it: “This is not what recovery is supposed to look like.”

The recovery story the numbers reveal is sobering.

It will take nine years at the current rate of job growth to recapture the jobs lost to the recession. Because that number doesn’t account for a rising population, the unemployment rate will continue to climb.

It will take 13 years for housing prices to rebound at the current rate of growth nationwide.

All those vacant businesses on Main Street, the large restaurant that is no more at the corner of Moonlight Road and U.S. 56 Highway – financial analysts suggest it will take up to a decade to absorb excess commercial vacancies.

I know I write about this topic frequently. Call it my midnight ride.

I’m no Paul Revere. But when he mounted his horse to ride from Boston to Lexington on April 18-19, 1775, he did so to warn our leaders that the British were coming. That’s not the alert we need today, but we do need to be on alert.

We need to be taking measures to ensure our survival as the best and brightest hope for freedom and prosperity the world has ever known. We need to protect our grandchildren and great grandchildren from the crippling debt we’re piling on them.

And to do that, we need to take off our rosy-colored glasses and truly see the world we’re living in. It’s not sunshine, ponies and rainbows. We’re not going to suddenly turn the corner and come roaring back to where we left off before our economy started circling the drain. The new normal will be meticulous and slow growth. And if it’s to occur with any certainty, it will require sound fiscal policy.

Unfortunately, our political leaders appear to have some sort of rose-colored lasik that doesn’t allow them to see the economic landscape as it really is.

Almost weekly, I attend a meeting of some local governing body, and they talk as if sunny days are right around the corner. Public officialsseem to believe if they can just hold on another year or two, the economy will come roaring back and we can build the next park, hire the next three dozen employees and grant massive raises to everyone.

For those in power, I have bad news: It’s not going to work that way this time. In Gardner, officials raised property taxes 10 percent during the last two years. They’ve intoned they’ll raise them again for a period of years and then drop them when the economy recovers.

In Spring Hill, school officials say they can float a bond issue for new schools – up to $46 million worth – without increasing the mill levy. Of course, their numbers assume positive growth of at least 2 percent in the next two years that will soar to four and five percent in the years beyond that.

We shouldn’t be buying it. And they shouldn’t be selling.  Part of the cause of our current economic malaise is that our public officials went into debt for construction based on projections that didn’t pan out. When the economic rug was pulled out from under us and the growth didn’t occur, officials were forced to raise taxes to pay down the debt.

Everyone agrees that fuel in the private sector is what will send the economy into overdrive again. But every dollar spent in the public sector is a dollar taken from the private sector.

There is no easy fix for the mess we’re in. Viewing the economic realities through clear lenses is a good start.

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