Technology with attitude

Economy To Go From Bad To Worse?

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Ambinder is talking to the Obama team, and they don’t think the economy is going to get better any time soon…

It’s quite unsettling to talk to members of Barack Obama’s transition teams these days, especially those who are helping with the economics portfolio. Without going into details, the sense I get from them is that they are very worried that the economy will get a lot worse before it gets better. Not just worse… a lot worse.

As in — double digit unemployment without the wiggle factors. Huge declines in aggregate demand. Significant, persistent deficits. That’s one reason why the Obama administration seems to be open to listening to every economist with an idea and is stocking the staff with the leading lights of the field. In one sense, the general level of concern among Obama advisers and transition staffers is reassuring; they get the magnitude of the problems, and they’re not going to assume that, just because the bottom has never dropped out before — certainly not in the lifetimes of most people doing policy these days, the bottom will never drop out.

We already know that the underemployed rate (which is a FAR better indicator of employment) is at 12.5% and the economy is shedding jobs like only one other time in history. And it took the New Deal and a massive world war to pull us out of that mess.

And speaking of foreign policy, the economic impact is being felt worldwide and could provide some pretty significant challenges for the President elect in the coming years…

Where the discussion isn’t going, at least in public, (or the PR level), is the possibility that the first foreign policy crisis the administration will face will be the complete economic collapse of a large, unstable nation. To be sure, Pakistan is nearly broke, and U.S. policy makers seem to be aware of that; but a worldwide demand crisis could lead to social unrest in countries like Indonesia and Malaysia, Singapore, the Ukraine, Japan, Turkey or Egypt (which is facing an internal political crisis of epic proportions already). The U.S. won’t have the resources to, say, engineer the rescue of the peso again, or intervene in Asia as in 1997.

Me? I’d start to detail all of these problems specifically so when something does happen it’s not a surprise. Knowledge is power and the more they give the American people, the easier it’ll be to convince them of their solutions later on.

Still, this seems like it’ll be a much tougher road than previously expected, and Americans may have to get accustomed to bad news for a couple years.