The American Economy: Comeback Kid
ALMOST the only thing on which Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, his Republican challenger, agree is that the economy is in a bad way. Unemployment is stuck above 8% and growth probably slipped below an annualised 2% in the first half of this year. Ahead lie the threats of a euro break-up, a slowdown in China and the “fiscal cliff”, a withering year-end combination of tax increases and spending cuts. Mr Obama and Mr Romney disagree only on what would make things worse: re-electing a left-wing president who has regulated to death a private sector he neither likes nor understands; or swapping him for a rapacious private-equity man bent on enriching the very people who caused the mess.
America’s economy is certainly in a tender state. But the pessimism of the presidential slanging-match misses something vital. Led by its inventive private sector, the economy is remaking itself (see article). Old weaknesses are being remedied and new strengths discovered, with an agility that has much to teach stagnant Europe and dirigiste Asia.
America’s sluggishness stems above all from pre-crisis excesses and the misshapen economy they created. Until 2008 growth relied too heavily on consumer spending and house-buying, both of them financed by foreign savings channelled through an undercapitalised financial system. Household debt, already nearly 100% of income in 2000, reached 133% in 2007. Recoveries from debt-driven busts always take years, as households and banks repair their balance-sheets.