Happy Thanksgiving, fellow Americans! Being a Colorado mountain boy, I’ve loved the cozy, warm smells of this holiday since I was short enough to win at hide-and-go-seek by just running into the meadow grass. It’s cold in them thar Rockies, you know, and nothing sets off the joys of a hot turkey meal better than a cold autumn day.
It was in just such a spirit that I learned to use the day of Thanksgiving to give thanks for what’s right in my life. I still do that and pass along the sentiment whenever I can, pointing out our good health, our acceptable wealth, an ample stack of firewood, a car that starts in the morning. All good things, to be sure, but this year there’s a glaring gift from above that just can’t go without an extra serving of appreciation.
That something is the 10.2% unemployment rate.
Let’s pause a moment to give thanks to the exemplary leadership of our president, who put in charge of the economy such luminaries as Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and National Economic Council Director Lawrence Summers. One shudders to think how terrible the economic landscape would be without them at the helm, wisely directing the nation’s resources away from Wall Street criminals and incompetents, to those trying to make ends meet in the real world.
Oh, sure, one could quibble over the way Geithner didn’t lift a finger to stop the banking bonanza when he was supposed to be doing so as president of the New York Fed, or the way Summers worked hard with former Goldmanoid Robert Rubin to reduce and block regulations in the 1990s so that banks could start the bonanza, but such quibbles aren’t kind on a festive day like this.
Those who think 10.2% is too high an unemployment rate obviously haven’t thought about some of the double digits above that first one. The best way to appreciate 10.2% is to note its being less than, say, 17.5%, which is what some like to call the “real” unemployment rate because it includes those who’ve just plain given up and those who can’t get enough hours at the jobs they have. On a happy day like this one, though, who can spare a moment for such dour inclusiveness? The best approach is the one demonstrated by our leaders: snub and celebrate.
Summers provides probably the best example to emulate. He’s the grandfather of grand unkept promises who handles failure by pretending it didn’t happen. Back in 1999, he celebrated at the signing ceremony of the Financial Services Modernization Act, which smashed the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act that had worked like a charm for seven decades in preventing financial companies from getting too big to fail by combining in any way the services of investment banking, commercial banking, and insurance. Summers called the new legislation “a major step forward to the 21st century,” to which he probably should have added “and the eventual bankruptcy of our nation in a multi-trillion-dollar giveaway of taxpayer money to banks that use this new deregulation to blow up the financial system.” He left that last part out then and doesn’t mention the legislation anymore, for some reason. He seems less proud these days of having backed it.
More recently, now that he failed upward into a new position of national leadership, he promised in February of this year at the signing of the $787 billion stimulus bill that it would prevent unemployment from exceeding 8.5%. Here we sit on Thanksgiving day with 3.4 million fewer jobs than we had in February and an unemployment rate 1.7% higher than the rate he promised would be the top, and what does he have to say about it all? “I think we got the Recovery Act right.”
You see, that’s how to give thanks no matter what’s going on. That’s real leadership we can all put to use in our lives. For Summers’s lighting the way down the road to happiness, I, for one, am most grateful.
I’m also grateful that we haven’t yet reached the desperation shown during the Great Depression by those who needed work. In his book Fly Fishing Through The Midlife Crisis, Howell Raines relayed the following recollection told to him by Ben Schley, “a spry and gallant man in his mid-seventies who had spent his career with the Fish and Wildlife Service of the Department of the Interior:”
“There was a drought through the Alleghenies probably about 1937 or ’38 when many of the streams went dry, and those that didn’t became very, very warm. The local people would often burn the mountains so that they would get a job putting out the fire. Really. I was a fire warden in Morgan County, West Virginia, at one time, and we paid them twenty-five cents an hour, and they would literally start fires so they would have a job.”
So, things really aren’t so bad at today’s wimpy levels of unemployment. For that, we should give thanks to our fine leaders and the low 10.2% unemployment rate they’ve achieved by getting the Recovery Act right.
Enjoy your turkey today, my friend — if you can afford any.
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