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When it comes to the United States economy, there is no shortage of bad news. The latest data on poverty in the U.S. is alarming. According to the latest information provided by the U.S. Census Bureau, the percentage of American households living below the poverty line--defined as $22,314 annual income for a family of four--has risen during 2010 to 15.1%, which is up from 14% in 2009. This statistic adds yet another reason to expect a bleak economic outlook.

Typically, in bad times we search for villains, someone or something to put the blame on. These days, many see the main culprit as the government. The conservative and Tea Party political candidates have successfully exploited inauspicious economic data to mock government programs, especially those implemented during Obama's term in the office. They also promise to block any initiatives Obama proposes and repeal the ones he has already put in place.   Fear has been fomented and issues have been blown out of proportion by a group of demagogues seeking to take advantage of the gullibility of American voters. They have successfully transformed public dissatisfaction into outrage and into what they have come to call class warfare. And, who knows what will next ensue.

Obama's failure to lower the unemployment rate to an acceptable level is at the center of the bickering. The fact of the matter is not that Obama hasn't tried hard enough to lower the unemployment rate, but rather it is simply because the U.S. economy is still in a downturn phase and has not yet been propelled by the thrust of recovery. Had the economy been operating under normal conditions, President Obama's economic policies would have been more potent and more effective in alleviating unemployment and its costly consequences. Additionally, the benefits of government polices often materialize over the long term; but people seem to have run out of patience and are reluctant to wait any longer. Worst yet, according to a recent survey by the Wall Street Journal, many leading economists and forecasters believe that the U.S. economy may slip into another recession next year.   Unless the economy reverses its current course and moves into recovery mode, we won't see any significant decrease in the unemployment rate and hence an improvement in the overall economic condition.  

The resurgence of conservative ideology over the past two years, especially following the recent midterm election, clearly signifies voter dissatisfaction with the status quo. The stubborn high unemployment rate, the run-away debt and deficit, and the diminishing economic power of people in the middle class are wreaking havoc with the country's economy and are eroding consumer confidence. Thus far, Republican and Tea Party candidates have benefited handsomely from the grim circumstances created by voter dissatisfaction. In my view, it is the credulity of some American voters that has helped the conservatives and the Tea Party candidates to resurge and not the superiority of their agenda and their candor. These candidates have successfully enticed voters into buying their half-true ideas since desperation forces people to accept any allegedly helpful promise. Most of us have been fooled by fallacious right-wing ideas that seem to make sense on the surface but are deeply flawed beneath the surface, ideas such as the prosperity of Wall Street is a necessary condition for the growth of the economy, taxing the rich will exacerbate the unemployment rate, and somehow government can magically cut taxes and yet continue to spend money on exorbitantly expensive social programs that the same voters persistently support. The simple fact that a mathematical impossibility such as cutting taxes while maintaining or increasing government's level of spending cannot be a viable solution to our economic problems seems to have eluded most voters

American voters seem to suffer from social amnesia. They have forgotten that it was many years of misguided policies implemented under previous administrations that forced our economy into its worst recorded recession in modern history and required an enormously expensive bail-out plan. The coming into power of the conservative right means more tax cuts for the wealthy, even wider income gaps between the rich and the poor, cozier symbiotic relationships between politicians and those who are protected by their lobbying power, continued shrinking of the middle class, and deeper divisiveness in our already polarized nation.

This whole situation reminds me of an old story once I heard about a man who lost his money and was hopelessly searching for it. A passerby asked the man what he was doing. "I have lost my money," the man replied, "and I am trying to find it." The bystander decided to help. They both searched the entire area they were in and found nothing. The man eventually pointed to a dark area nearby and said, "I lost my money over there." "Then why are we looking over here?" asked bystander. The man replied, "Because this is the only bright spot around here." To me, this story seems to reflect the nonsensical solution search mentality of this country. United States voters simplistically think that they may find their missing hope in Republican candidates who present themselves and their solutions as bright spots, instead of taking the more difficult course of action of searching for hope and solutions in the dark realities where we have lost what we value.  

 

Reza Varjavand (Ph.D., University of Oklahoma) is associate professor of economics and finance at the Graham School of management, Saint Xavier University, of Chicago. He has been an avid participant in many professional organizations and active in (more...)
 
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