US Recovery Has Been Sabotaged for Selfish Political Gain
THERE HAS been plenty to criticise about President Barack Obama’s handling of the US economy. Yet the overriding story of the past few years is not Obama’s mistakes but the scorched-earth opposition of Republicans, who have done everything they can to get in his way - and who now, having blocked the president’s policies, hope to win the White House by claiming that his policies have failed.
And last week’s shocking refusal to implement debt relief by the acting director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency - a Bush-era holdover the president hasn’t been able to replace - illustrates perfectly what’s going on.
Some background. Many economists believe that the overhang of excess US household debt, a legacy of the bubble years, is the biggest factor holding back economic recovery. Loosely speaking, excess debt has created a situation in which everyone is trying to spend less than their income. Since this is collectively impossible - my spending is your income, and your spending is my income - the result is a persistently depressed economy.
How should policy respond? One answer is government spending to support the economy while the private sector repairs its balance sheets; now is not the time for austerity, and cuts in government purchases have been a major economic drag. Another answer is aggressive monetary policy, which is why the US Federal Reserve’s refusal to act in the face of high unemployment and below-target inflation is a scandal.
But fiscal and monetary policy could, and should, be coupled with debt relief. Reducing the burden on Americans in financial trouble would mean more jobs and improved opportunities for everyone.
Unfortunately the administration’s initial debt relief efforts were ineffectual: officials imposed so many restrictions to avoid giving relief to “undeserving” debtors that the programme went nowhere. More recently, however, the administration has got a lot more serious about the issue.
And the obvious place to provide debt relief is on mortgages owned by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-sponsored lenders that were effectively nationalised in the waning days of the George W Bush administration.