Noth­ing dull with nor­mal that wasn't in 2010

At least the au­thors of the five-word sum­mary above -mem­bers of the AFL's knife­sharp­en­ing union -- could say they spent 1910 craft­ing a de­cent pun.

The Pak Banker - - Editorial5 - Josh Tyrang­iel

"Dull year for the in­dus­try." There you have it, the most in­ter­est­ing sen­tence in the Amer­i­can Fed­er­a­tion of La­bor's roundup of 1910. Even those who fetishize sta­bil­ity would con­cede that it's a death march of a vol­ume, a 420-page trade-by-trade chron­i­cle of a year in which lit­tle seems to have hap­pened.

At least the au­thors of the five­word sum­mary above --mem­bers of the AFL's knife-sharp­en­ing union --could say they spent 1910 craft­ing a de­cent pun. A cen­tury later the idea of a dull work-year is quaint verg­ing on in­com­pre­hen­si­ble.

Global trade con­nects the fate of ev­ery in­dus­try and la­borer, no mat­ter how small or seem­ingly self-suf­fi­cient, to the de­ci­sions of bu­reau­crats in China, ship­builders in Korea, and bankers ev­ery­where. It's hard to have a quiet year in the shop when the shop has no bor­ders.

Even the struc­ture of a year seems en­larged and more com­plex. The depth of our in­ter­con­nect­ed­ness, the con­stancy of me­dia, means that themes and moods tend to hang around past their sea­son. By the ad­mit­tedly squishy met­rics of pes­simism and dis­rup­tion, 2010 feels as if it started a long time ago.

Maybe that's be­cause we're still breath­ing the fumes of 2008. Lehman Broth­ers' col­lapse 27 months ago brought on more than just a tee­ter­ing econ­omy: It cre­ated a cloud that has set­tled over many Western economies and, in 2010, wrought a kind of sea­sonal af­fec­tive dis­or­der on their cit­i­zens. In a Bloomberg poll con­ducted in Oc­to­ber, two out of three likely vot­ers in the Nov. 2 midterms said that taxes had gone up, the econ­omy had shrunk, and the bil­lions lent to banks as part of the Trou­bled As­set Re­lief Pro­gram would never be re­cov­ered. A Septem­ber poll showed that 77 per­cent of global in­vestors ex­pected the Euro­pean mon­e­tary union would crum­ble and at least one strug­gling govern­ment would de­fault, all de­spite a $1 tril­lion euro zone back­stop.

What's re­veal­ing about these re­sponses is the chasm be­tween feel­ings and facts.

Congress and the Obama Ad­min­is­tra­tion have cut taxes by $240 bil­lion since 2009. Growth con­tin­ued with­out in­ter­rup­tion in 2010 in the U.S. and most ma­jor economies. The Trea­sury ex­pects to turn a $16 bil­lion profit on the TARP res­cue. Greece and Ire­land may have stared into the white light of fis­cal death, but they were yanked back to earth by their neigh­bors and are now try­ing to re­ha­bil­i­tate (with wounded fury, but --so far at least --with­out de­fault).

By the end of the third quar­ter, U.S. non­fi­nan­cial cor­po­ra­tions were sit­ting on a record $436 bil­lion in cash. Through Dec. 14, the Stan­dard & Poor's 500 In­dex was up 11 per­cent for the year. And Wall Street was rack­ing up its fourth-largest profit ever, a pro­jected $19 bil­lion for the year, ac­cord­ing to the New York State Comptroller's of­fice.

So if things aren't nearly as bad as they seem, why do they seem so bad? Jobs and houses have a lot to do with it.

In the U.S., 17 per­cent of the work­force ei­ther couldn't find em­ploy­ment or was sur­viv­ing on part-time jobs. Their col­lec­tive frus­tra­tion and scrimp­ing are con­ta­gious. De­spite in­ter­est rates so low they would shock pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions, the hous­ing mar­ket has all the bus­tle of a Pom­peii bazaar; there were 202,000 new homes on the mar­ket at the end of Oc­to­ber, the fewest since June 1968. Mix in an un­re­lent­ing fore­clo­sure cri­sis, in which the cen­turies-old con­cept of ti­tle was thrown into doubt by faulty record-keep­ing, and it's easy to un­der­stand why so many peo­ple feel like they've lost a de­gree of con­trol over their lives: They have. The no­tion that trusted in­sti­tu­tions can re­store our sense of se­cu­rity is as quaint as that 1910 year­book. Gov­ern­ments can't stop leaks --of oil or in­for­ma­tion --let alone reg­u­late be­hav­ior. Pas­sage of the Dod­dFrank fi­nan­cial bill in July may have con­strained in­vest­ment banks by putting lim­its on pro­pri­etary trad­ing, but as Michael Lewis wrote for this news ser­vice: "What's re­ally strik­ing is how lit­tle abil­ity the out­side world re­tains to find out what is go­ing on in­side these places --even af­ter we have learned that what we don't know about them can kill us."

The Tea Party, which re­sists mean­ing as fe­ro­ciously as it re­sists Ben Ber­nanke, makes sense when seen as an ex­er­cise in fist-shak­ing. Two years af­ter hope and change, it fumed at such eco­nomic ab­strac­tions as quan­ti­ta­tive eas­ing and bend­ing the curve and asked a sim­ple ques­tion: Why can't we have our coun­try back?

Here's the thing: That Amer­ica has been gone for years. Cheap la­bor and plen­ti­ful re­sources com­bined with ease of travel and com­mu­ni­ca­tion have given emerg­ing mar­kets more than just a place at the ta­ble.

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