The Trump economy is going gangbusters! Wages are rising, unemployment is low, and the stock market is near an all-time high. Real estate prices are going up, the bond market is in a rally--maybe we'll all get rich.
But let's look a little closer at this halcyon picture, starting with the unemployment rate, which is now below 4 percent. As Nicholas Eberstadt explained in Men Without Work, a book that more people should read, the official unemployment rate does not measure the percentage of people who aren't working and aren't looking for work. In the years 2006 to 2016, Eberstadt wrote, 17 percent of working-age men in their prime working years (ages 20-64) reported having no employment in the previous month. (p. 27)
As Eberstadt explained, America now has a "caste" of working-age guys who have decided not to get a job. "Members of this caste can, at least, expect to scrape by in an employment-free existence, and membership in the caste is, in an important sense, voluntary" (p. 35).
And then there are the millions of people getting paychecks who aren't doing anything useful. Just look at the universities, crammed with tenure-protected men and women who have good retirement plans and excellent health insurance, but who aren't doing much of anything to improve our society. Do we really need a professor to teach medieval European literature or the history of the Ottoman empire in classrooms to students who don't give a damn? And how are these parasites getting paid? We know how they are getting paid: students are taking out massive student loans.
It is true the economy seems to be humming along, but if things are so good, why can't Congress pass a balanced budget? If we can't live within our income when the economy is rosy, how can we pay the nation's bills when the economy heads south?
Of course, people are still buying expensive cars--SUVs with all kinds of marvelous gadgets--heated seats, automatic backup features, and entertainment systems that allow our kids to watch Shrek while we're barreling down the interstate at 70 miles an hour.
But many car buyers have to take out long-term loans to pay for these marvelous new vehicles. According to the Wall Street Journal, the average car-loan term is now 69 months, and six-year loans and even seven-year loans are becoming more and more common. As WSJ writers Ben Eisen and Adrienne Roberts observed, "Car loans that are increasingly stretched out are a pronounced sign that some American middle-class buyers can't afford a middle-class lifestyle."
In his memoir Night, Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel wrote that the Jews in his Transylvania village were warned that the Nazis were committing genocide in central Europe, but no one believed it. Today, we have a clear sign that the American economy is a house of cards. Next week, the Trump administration will begin a new round of quantitative easing when it will buy $60 billion in Treasury bills. Correct me if I'm wrong, but this move basically means the feds have gone back into the money-printing business.
You can write me off as a grumpy old geezer, but that's only partly true. Actually, I'm a worried old geezer. My wife and I have savings, but we are largely dependent on our pensions and Social Security to maintain ourselves in our retirement years.
If the national and global economies fall apart, a lot of elderly Americans are going to suffer--and I don't just mean being forced to eat the senior breakfast at Denny's. President Trump's critics should spend more time examining the rot in the national economy and less time fulminating on Trump's phone call to Ukraine, about which nobody gives a damn.
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