Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Glacially, the New York Times Enters This Century

This is a sandwich story and it’s not flattering, so be forewarned. The editorial writers within the esteemed New York Times newspaper have taken forty year-old bread and tried to make a sandwich of it, as though it was something shocking. Gail Collins runs the editorial show at NYT. What about it, Gail?


Nytgailcollins_1I suppose it’s news of some value that they’ve awakened to the country's financial plight, jostled from the sleepy comfort of their easy-chairs by the fire, to finally notice.


The top slice;

“Recent stock market turmoil has been a plus for United States Treasury securities. Over the last couple of weeks, investor demand for safety has generally pushed up the price of the benchmark 10-year Treasury bond, making it cheaper for the government to borrow. But there is still plenty of reason to worry about the United States' borrowing binge.”

Harrumph! Pretty inciteful. Great god in the morning, they have found something to celebrate in the government’s ability to borrow more cheaply. Willingness, enthusiasm, stumbling over one another in a rush for the door of indebtedness, has been the hallmark of administrations and congresses since Eisenhower.


LivingbeyondmeansIt took the entire history of the nation over a hundred-thirty years to achieve the remarkable and stunning debt of 1906. A total $2.3 billion. The equal of two days worth of current load on our grandkids. Think about that for just a moment, roll it around in your mind and gaze off into the horizon, try to get a grip on the totality of it—every two days we indebt our nation to the equal of it’s first 130 years.


The New York Times was printing in 1906, as it was in 1946. During those intervening forty years, America fought two world wars and “Fair Dealed” its way out of a devastating depression. The total debt grew a hundredfold through those multiple disasters, to $269 billion. Thirty-eight and a half weeks worth at today’s spending rate.


The New York Times snuffles and grumbles, shifts itself in the chair by the fire, orders another cognac and finds “plenty of reason to worry about the United States' borrowing binge.”  Wake me when it gets serious.


It gives me chills to hear the patriotic warning call of a great American newspaper, marshalling its readers to awareness. Not action, mind you. Action might require actually getting up from that upholstered comfort, possibly worrying an investor or two, arching a few eyebrows over on Wall Street or (god forbid) alerting the underemployed of New York.


A warning call, a hundred years late almost to the day, then back to a comfortable doze by the fire.


From 1946, during the Truman administration, America faced the turmoil of troops coming home, the country getting its feet back under itself, the massive reorganization from a wartime to peacetime industrial base and the financial consequences of the GI Bill. Truman was a big spender. By the time he left office, the National Debt had actually been reduced by $3 billion from the time he was inaugerated. Not a lot, but a reduction over seven years, something that would not be seen again in our history.


TreasurydeptFast-forward exactly a hundred years from 1906. Today’s National Debt stands at an astounding three thousand, two hundred-sixty times the 1906 debt. In that year, the average wage in the United States was 22 cents an hour. If that wage had grown at the rate of National Debt, the average would stand today at $717 an hour and annually the average would be nearly $1.5 million.


A nation of millionaires. Wouldn’t that be grand as MacNamarra's Band?


The bottom-slice of the NYT sandwich, 

“Of course, no one knows the future. But we can size up our present reality: America is living beyond its means, and foreigners are increasingly supporting the excess — in exchange for a government guarantee that a chunk of America's future collective income will benefit them, not the Americans who earn it.”

DebtWhile I hate to interrupt the Great Newspaper Snooze, your and my slice—our personal slice of U.S. debt, multiplied by how many wives, kids an husbands in our family—our commitment to the present-and-accounted-for debt, is $27,000. Family of four? $108,000.00. A debt that grows at the rate of $694,444.44 every minute, twenty-four hours a day.


How’s that for “no one knows the future?”
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More about politics in America at my opinion columns web site.