The other day I saw two boys running home after school. The “hare” sprinted ahead then faltered and stopped. The “tortoise” kept running and disappeared from view far ahead.
I thought of conservatives—and many liberals, too—who take the “hare” or sprinter’s approach to the economy. Either push some free-market buttons or throw government cash at the problem. Then watch the economy soar justlikethat. I don’t think so.
It took nearly a decade to find Osama bin Laden. Persistence and hard work bore fruit. President George W. Bush made a costly mistake in not letting American troops go after bin Laden at Tora Bora after 9/11, but he never intended for bin Laden to escape. President Obama concluded that our “friends” in Afghanistan and Pakistan should not determine American actions and moved forward with SEAL Team 6. They succeeded.
The markets yawned at bin Laden’s death. I liked that. Investors would have responded enthusiastically in the months after 9/11, but in some ways, bin Laden already was history. Investor attention focused on the state of the economy which, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke reported a week ago, is recovering albeit slowly. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, among others, has long written that many Americans fail to understand the depth of the hole into which the economy plunged and how much time we’ll need to get out of it. Quick fixes like cutting vital social programs to the bone or increased government spending that bloats the deficit may play to a number of voters but represent dereliction of duty.
Let’s give President Obama some credit here. Now that the birther movement has dissipated—less a few diehards who will remain—perhaps the nation will attend to real issues with an eye on reality. America’s penchant for mechanistic thinking—anything can be repaired quickly as if it were a car engine or some other mechanical device—requires modification. By opposing mechanistic solutions, Mr. Obama reveals himself to be a tortoise.
But as the 2012 election grows nearer, Republicans may find the tortoise too far out front to catch. Economic data keep trending up. Today’s non-farms payroll report showed a gain of 244,000 jobs. While unemployment rose from 8.8% to 9.0%, this most likely indicates growing confidence in the economy and more people reentering the job market. The Dow closed at 12810 on April 29 then dropped back this week, reinforcing a two-steps-forward, one-back approach. A very possible scenario: the Dow approaches 14000 a year from now when election season kicks into high gear. Many people have said to me that we’ll never see that number again in our lifetimes. Those conversations are now all of two years old.
Emotions have run wild over the last several years. But indeed, the President was born in Hawaii. Bin Laden is gone. And the economy, while not where we want it to be, has made significant progress. Americans may yet conclude that patience and pragmatism represent virtues.
I’ll be taking the next few Fridays off. It’s a great opportunity to review past posts—just scroll down. Want to respond? Click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.