You don’t often see the wages of folly come due all at once. But in less that 48 hours last week, the nation was presented with two bills for the last six-and-a-half years.
On Monday night, rioting broke out in Baltimore. We all know the immediate cause, the funeral of a young man who died while in police custody and the utter inability of the government of Baltimore to deal with the unrest. But as many have suggested, the outbreaks occurred in areas of the city where unemployment is as high as 50 percent and (thanks to a pervasive welfare state and the culture it has fostered) the normal nuclear family’s presence may be approaching zero.
Every American knows about the corrosiveness of the welfare, even those trapped in it – every American, that is, other than those who have been running the current administration. The perfect embodiment of the faction of the Democratic Party that opposed Bill Clinton’s signing of the welfare reform act in the mid-1990s, the administration has restored welfare by stealth over the last six-and-a-half years. The explosive growth of the disability rolls is just one area they have brought about this catastrophic change. The intent may have been compassion, or it may have been to lock in votes, or it may have been a mix of the two. But the result, predictably, was the social chaos of Baltimore.
Yet there was also a question of moral example, the President’s recent embraced Al Sharpton. Remember that last December Reverend Al led a mass of marchers in Manhattan who chanted, “What do we want? Dead Cops. When do we want them? Now.” Execution-style murders of police officers followed. It is a fair guess that police around the nation — at least in impoverished, minority-dominated areas — came to feel embattled and fearful, which may have had something to do with several subsequent events, creating an ever more menacing funnel cloud of provocation and response. Though, in fact, examples of bad police behavior in America are vanishingly rare (see analysis: http://bit.ly/RealPoliceNumbers ) and, where proven to the satisfaction of juries, punished.
The second and related invoice for folly arrived on Wednesday morning. The GDP numbers for the first quarter came out. The economy had no growth in the first quarter. The government’s excuse (lots of snow; port strikes) would have been more telling if Q1 2015 data were not part of a pattern. The fact is that despite trillions in stimulus dollars and years of near-zero interest rates, the nation has never really emerged from the financial crisis.
In a February 2009 article, I argued that enough had been done in the final months of the Bush Administration to ensure a rapid economic recovery and that what Mr. Obama was proposing would be counterproductive (http://bit.ly/16qwQLa). So what has happened since then?
As Karl Rove pointed out in the Wall Street Journal last week, the average annual growth in this recovery has been the slowest of any recovery on record. It was not until April last year that the total number of jobs in the nation got back to where they had been in December 2007, when the recession started. 14.7 million young people have reached working age in that time, including, to judge from television coverage, nearly every one of the Baltimore rioters. If this is a recovery, it is the first every recorded in which incomes declined as the economy grew. And it is the first in which more businesses are closing than opening (http://bit.ly/SputteringEngine).
Can this dismal performance be any kind of surprise? The foundations for economic growth are rule of law, a light and predictable regulatory hand, low taxes and deference in most areas of life to markets and civil society. The administration has gone in exactly the opposite direction since coming to office. Those hurt most? Precincts that voted for the president by nearly unanimous margins, the same kind that began burning in Baltimore a week ago Monday.
Winston Churchill famously said that we Americans always pick the right course, after exhausting all others. In the past six-and-a-half years – thanks to the president, his team, and his entire party in government — we have been testing how much folly a nation can endure. When will the folly end?