The President-Elect and the Inflationary Crisis of 2018

Saturday, August 6, 2016


The presidential election dial has been set to the volume level of “monotony,” and it is only early August. The thought of having to endure another three months of political posturing is more than cruel and unusual punishment. Does anyone really need a debate at this point between Trump and Clinton? During the GOP primary debates, the entire nation saw how Trump treated political opponents, and most of the nation should be able to vouch for how well Hillary Clinton held her own in debating Barack Obama, who has gone on to become a fairly popular president. Is anything to be gained from Trump’s attempt to impose a vitriolic conversation onto prime time?

My anguish is genuine. This election seems like an animal afflicted with a terminal disease. Please, I beg of the electorate, euthanize this election’s interminable, pointless campaigning. Hold the vote now. Declare a state of national emergency in which everyone gets two days off. On the first day, everyone should sit down and think about their vote, and then the next day vote.

With sanity restored, those who voted for Clinton can quietly celebrate and those who preferred someone else (which is, in fact, the majority of people who regard themselves as Republicans) can begin to figure out how to move forward from here. For the most part, in fact, the “historical” aspect of Clinton’s election will soon fade from the public sphere, and will primarily surface within the more private, domestic evolution of feminist history as it continues to affect the Millennials and their daughters and sons.

In electing a proud policy wonk, in fact, let’s cut to the chase. President-elect Hillary Clinton will face an unusual situation: she will be the first Democrat to be elected President in the past sixty years to have a fairly good economy in place on her inauguration day. Note that I didn’t say it was a “solid” or “vibrant” economy, but compare the economy of the past four years with the following Presidential terms:

1972-1976 – Presidents Nixon and Ford — Does no one except me and academic economists remember the WIN buttons of 1975? “Whip Inflation Now.” The recession of 1974 was the first economic punch in the gut of young baby boomers, and little did we realize how harder future punches were too get.

1980 – 1988 – The Recession of 1982 ended up with unemployment topping 12 percent. If anyone doubts that Reagan was born with a golden voice and an ability to make any critic look unpatriotic, then consider how easily he won reelection with a dismal economy squeezing every working person’s kitchen table. The savings and loan crisis in 1987-1988 just about torpedoed his vice-president’s candidacy, but negative campaigning won the day for the first President Bush.

1988-1992 – The first Bush presidency ended with an economy that was reeling so badly that Bill Clinton should have won much more handily than he did.

2000-2008 – When the second President Bush left office, he would have been thrilled if the economy of the country had only been as dismal as it was back in 1992, under his father’s administration.

All of this is to say that Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama all took office when the nation had experienced some degree of recession in the previous four years, ranging from a significant economic contraction to one so grave that it verged on catastrophe for the wealthy, and was an outright catastrophe for working people.

In contrast, President-elect Hillary Clinton will be called upon to manage a different kind of crisis, and I am puzzled as to why no one has yet brought this up. Jimmy Carter ended up serving as President for only one term in large part because the rampant inflation of the late 1970s was even more debilitating than the recession under President Ford. How will Hillary Clinton manage to help workers, whose wages have long been held down, gain a greater share of economic prosperity without initiating another round of inflation? In answering that question, she will need to remember the consequences of inflation on the baby boomer generation, a huge swath of which will be in peril of seeing their retirement years sink into the morass of ignominious poverty. Pay raises for working people are long overdue, but if the minimum age becomes $15 an hour, how will those on the fixed incomes of social security ever survive the inevitable inflation to follow?

These are questions that President-Elect Hillary Clinton needs to answer as soon as possible, if she wants to overcome the distrust that many people have of her, including those who intend to vote for her. I await her immediate response.

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