David Frum’s take on the current American anxiety

From The Daily Beast, here.

Money quote:

In 1959, during the golden age of the American middle class, bestselling writer Allen Drury set the scene for his novel Advise and Consent by describing a world that “had seen America rise and rise and rise, some sort of golden legend to her own people, some sort of impossible fantasy to others …”
This is the fear that haunts us now, the worry above all worries: Has the golden legend of America-the constantly renewed promise of a better economic future for its citizens-finally reached an end? And if so, what alternative future awaits us?

Hope for Congress?

About 10 miles away, over the rainbow, is the Capitol Building. Perhaps they will overcome their differences in the near future and relearn the art of compromise?

In all seriousness, political failure is now a real part of the calculus for assessing systemic risk here in the US. My own sense is that, after the general election, enough progress will be made on the country’s economic trajectory to keep the recovery going–but nothing is certain and the two sides are playing very much of a zero-sum game.

The China Meme

We’ve all seen it over and over, for the past decade. In today’s FT, four new books are reviewed that put forward a potential counter-meme: namely that the US has some crucial advantages going forward. My only worry: Tyler Cowen’s thesis that those US advantages don’t necessarily translate into jobs.

Thoughts on double-dip

First a caveat–the view from Nelson County Virginia is never great. Not talking about the mountain views, we can see sixty miles up the Valley from here. Looking out of our windows is a major recreation while we’re here. Rather, the Recession only exacerbated what was already a very difficult economy locally. Other than Wintergreen Ski Resort, there’s not a lot of money pouring into this corner of the Blue Ridge–ever.

I brought the Financial Times from Washington and reading it, this afternoon, listening to Miles Davis with the windows wide open to mid-sixty degree temperatures and blue skies, provokes cognitive dissonance. A consensus seems to be developing that the the global economy isn’t going to improve substantively anytime soon.

This outcome, if true, would have major consequences for science funding around the globe. Certainly here in the U.S., it might coincide with the ending of ARRA (Recovery Act) grants to create something of a perfect storm.

On the other hand, my state, the Commonwealth of Virginia, is projected to have ended the fiscal year with a surplus!

So it’s difficult to read the tea leaves.

The American Dream

David Brooks and Gail Collins on the future of the American Dream. I find myself agreeing with both of them. But without an economy that heavily leverages advances in science and technology, it’ll be very difficult for me to be at all optimistic about the future. So we not only need a creative class (think Richard Florida), we also need that creative class to be producing real products that offer solutions to our huge problems (think the intersection of climate and energy or health care).

Thomas Friedman gets it exactly right

Tom Friedman nails it in his op-ed piece in today’s NY Times. His comparison of Hong Kong’s modern airport to JFK mirrors my own experience last week leaving Munich and arriving at Dulles with its antique mobile lounges and confused immigration lines.

But his most important point is about how the the rescue package for the US economy gets spent:

That’s why we don’t just need a bailout. We need a reboot. We need a build out. We need a buildup. We need a national makeover. That is why the next few months are among the most important in U.S. history. Because of the financial crisis, Barack Obama has the bipartisan support to spend $1 trillion in stimulus. But we must make certain that every bailout dollar, which we’re borrowing from our kids’ future, is spent wisely. 

It has to go into training teachers, educating scientists and engineers, paying for research and building the most productivity-enhancing infrastructure — without building white elephants. Generally, I’d like to see fewer government dollars shoveled out and more creative tax incentives to stimulate the private sector to catalyze new industries and new markets. If we allow this money to be spent on pork, it will be the end of us.

Jim