As the year draws to a close it seems appropriate to take stock of the conditions in which we find our country at the end of 2010. In this post I’ll consider three areas: the economy, politics, and the environment. I also plan to post a similar assessment of the international situation at the end of the year over at Outside the Beltway.
The economy is essentially moving sideways. The level of employment continues to deteriorate and the unemployment rate, at least to some degree an artifact, remains at 9.8%. The decrease in employment renders the unacceptably high unemployment rate that much less acceptable.
Solutions to the employment situation remain elusive. I’m skeptical that government action is likely to help much since it will inevitably be focused on an economy that no longer exists, hearkening back to the 1950s or even the 1930s, or be targeted at large, established businesses. These are the business that have shed jobs at an alarming rate over the last few decades. For example, in 1979 GM employed nearly 620,000 people in the United States. It now employes fewer than 70,000. That’s roughly the same as Microsoft.
BTW, the largest private employers today in the U. S. are Wal-Mart (1,800,000), Kelly Services (750,000), McDonald’s (465,000), and UPS (428,000) with most of the other larger employers falling below 350,000 total U. S. employees. The rise in the number of temporary workers in the United States is a subject for a post on its own. Temporary workers are typically paid less with fewer benefits than their permanent counterparts and they definitely have lower job security. Lower job security in turn has a negative influence on things like retail sales (lowering sales of durable goods, for example) and indebtedness (increasing it).
The political situation at the close of 2010 remains uncertain. The November elections produced the largest change in the part affiliation of the House of Representatives since the end of World War II. Many of the incoming freshmen ran with Tea Party support or on a Tea Party-style platform. The upcoming months will show whether they genuinely believe in the small government gospel they’ve preached or whether they differ from their Democratic opponents primarily in how they want to spend tax dollars and the borrowed money on which the federal government depends.
Recent weeks have seen the extension of the tax cuts of the early 2000s and a substantial additional fiscal stimulus package, the repeal of the enabling legislation of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy on homosexuals serving in the U. S. military with tepid bipartisan support, and the passage by the Senate of a new strategic arms reductions treaty with Russia with strong bipartisan support.
Among the significant political develops of 2010 was the decision of Chicago’s Mayor Richard M. Daley not to seek re-election. Make no mistake: the mayor of Chicago is arguably the most powerful elected Democratic official in the country including the Democratic president and a Democratic Speaker of the House. Unlike the president, the mayor of Chicago faces no term limits and unlike the Speaker of the House, as we have seen, the mayor of Chicago doesn’t face much in the way of an opposing party. Democrats have dominated the Chicago mayor’s office for the last 140 years with the last Republican to hold the job leaving office 80 years ago.
Chicago’s new mayor will not only have enormous influence and power in the nation’s 3rd largest city, he (or she) will have substantial influence over national politics and policy and the potential to be a mentor for an entire generation of Democratic politicians.
Right now the frontrunner in the mayor’s race is Rahm Emanuel, formerly President Obama’s chief of staff. He has cleared the first hurdle in his race for the job by receiving approval from the Board of Elections to run. It’s far from a done deal—I have little doubt the BoE’s decision on Mr. Emanuel’s residency will be taken to the courts.
The BoE’s decision has seen more of the regular Democratic leadership fall into line behind Emanuel’s candidacy but he’s not the only candidate. I expect that we’ll see a black candidate, an Hispanic candidate, and at least one other candidate in the primaries as serious contenders. James Meeks’s withdrawal from the race place former Senator Carol Mosely-Braun and present Representative Danny Davis in stronger positions. If the one black candidate concept can take hold, it will put Emanuel’s mayoral chances in serious doubt.
Other than the economy and the political upheaval that our economic problems have brought with them, IMO the biggest story and most important developments have been in the area of the environment. The consequences of the Deepwater Horizon fire, explosion, blowout, and cleanup on the Gulf of Mexico and adjacent areas will be played out in the courts, on our beaches and wetlands, and in the Gulf for decades to come. See also here.
California is experiencing recordbreaking rains. Atlanta had its first white Christmas since 1882 although the small amount of accumulation did not exceed the third of an inch that happened then. The southeast has experienced unseasonably cold weather. New England may be on the brink of its biggest snowstorm in 15 years. Drought in the Midwest and Southeast has reduced crop yields.
Proponents of policy change to deal with climate change attribute the unusual weather to global warming; skeptics question the data and wonder how a theory that whose adherents explain exceptional cooling by exceptional warming might be disproved.
We live in interesting times.