When politicians talk economics, buyers beware

Now that the Republican primaries are almost over, we must steel ourselves against an onslaught of political propaganda. Much of what will be said is outside my purview, but given that pundits remind us that it is once again about the “economy stupid,” maybe I can briefly add something to the discussion.

It begins with ridiculous proclamations, such as $2 gasoline. How?

Well, I’ll tell you how price controls on gas. The last time we tried that, during the Nixon administration, the policy precipitated gas shortages of Soviet proportions. That is ridiculous.

But all this talk panders to a broad constituency. It concentrates fear and anger on a single easy-to-understand issue that is out of policymakers’ control. However, the state of the economy, and even less so, gas prices, has little to do with who is president.

What makes all this hyperbole, finger-pointing, intransigence and obfuscation worse is the continued seriousness of the current economic situation.

In the United States, monthly foreclosures have been more than 200,000 for what seems an eternity – finally dipping below 200,000 in March. And the Case-Shiller housing index rose a whopping 0.15 percent in February.

Unemployment remains high, underemployment is epidemic, and 43 percent of the unemployed is long-term. The long-term unemployed have gone more than 27 weeks without a job 80 percent above the average for the 2000s. Economic growth remains anemic, to put an optimistic spin on things.

News headlines declare concerns about a recession in Spain, Greece and Italy. But Spain and Greece already are in a depression with unemployment rates higher than 20 percent, and if you’re younger than 25, you have a 50 percent chance of being unemployed.

The euro is in jeopardy of becoming a historical footnote, an interesting thought experiment that briefly united a contentious continent. How many of you remember the Austro-Hungarian single currency? Yeah, I thought so.

So we are left with nebulous statements such as: “I know how to get the economy moving again.” I question how Mitt Romney, who likes to brag about his experience in the private sector at the private-equity firm Bain Capital, has taught himself to manage an entire economy. Though, I could ask the same of President Barack Obama as well.

Sure, there are little things around the periphery that could help: silly regulations, perceptions of red tape gone wild. But no one wants to tackle the big things: tax and entitlement reform. That’s too costly politically.

A few years ago, right after the inauguration of Obama, I cautioned readers that this recession was unlike any most of us has ever seen. Because it would be long, slow and painful, I hoped Americans would be patient, but remained skeptical they would. And so it is.

The economy needs a serious talk, serious ideas and serious reforms. And I’m not hearing it from either side of the aisle. And we should be outraged.

sonora_t@fortlewis.edu Robert “Tino” Sonora is an associate professor of economics at Fort Lewis College and the director of the Office of Business and Economic Research at Fort Lewis College.