Why the Bush years weren't so bad

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Just five paragraphs into the new administration, President Obama warned us that "we are in the midst of crisis." The last time a president warned that we were in the midst of crisis, we got Abu Ghraib, extraordinary rendition and the TSA.

No doubt the new guy, just like the old guy, will require unprecedented new powers to deal with the unprecedented threat to our well being. Obama is already asking for an unprecedented increase in the size of the national debt. Before we go back down that road, maybe we should stop and ask: "What crisis?''

Start with this: You are better off than you were four years ago. After adjusting for inflation, the average American earns about $2500 a year more today than on the day of W's second inaugural. That same average American now spends a little less time at the office or on the assembly line, and a little more time on vacation or on the couch. He or she shops online for products that were unimaginable just four years ago. (How many of you read this morning's paper on your Kindle or iPhone?) The air is cleaner than it was a decade ago and life expectancy is up.

Not that the last president had much to do with any of this. He didn't. It's the way the modern world works. Things improve. Incomes rise, work hours fall, the quality of goods improves.  Few things in economics are as consistent as the growth of real GDP per capita over the past 200 years:

graph_2_SF.jpg

Today we're in a recession--a moment in time when the march of growth stalls and even gets set back by a couple of years. This happens every now and then. Really. But things pick up again and we move on. Some people get set back a little farther than others; some are unemployed for a while. But the pool of resources is still near an all-time high.

In the long run we have nothing to fear but fear itself--and the rush to poor judgment that is the spawn of fear. Poor judgment makes people say things like "Hey! This new guy in town seems likable and right-minded. Let's give him everything he's asking for so he can take care of us." We've been down that road before. I'm hoping for some change I can believe in.


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Steven Landsburg

Steven Landsburg is a professor of economics at Rochester University and author of The Armchair Economist.
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