Avalanche Fence
An avalanche-fence in the French Alps

It’s bad enough to be jobless for a few weeks; it’s much worse being unemployed for months or years. Yet that’s exactly what will happen to millions of Americans if the average forecast is right — which means that many of the unemployed will lose their savings, their homes and more. To head off this outcome — and remember, this isn’t what economic Cassandras are saying; it’s the forecasting consensus — we’d need to get another round of fiscal stimulus under way very soon. But neither Congress nor, alas, the Obama administration is showing any inclination to act.

Not much about macro-economics is obvious, and even mathematical economists who subscribe to exactly the same sub-division of economic ideology can radically disagree about factors as fundamental as the fiscal multiplier.

Likewise even the definitions of terms like "unemployment" are so complicated and indefinitely qualified that even the most official of all official measures of unemployment by the Bureau of Labor Statistics is immediately fractured into six "alternative measures of labor underutilization," and there wouldn’t be much hope for the average person to understand anything about the statistical measures of unemployment if all those different indicators weren’t moving in exactly the same direction.

U2

Zoom!

One of many unpleasant aspects of depression and recession economics is what you might call a snowball effect, and as more and more people lose jobs, the salesmen who formerly sold them boats goes under, and then the worker who built the boats, and so on.

Prescriptions for dealing with similar phenomena have been incorporated into the folk-wisdom of all times and places, in the form of nostrums like "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" and "a stitch in time saves nine," but American political economics possesses a peculiar un-wisdom of its own, and although one or two "stitches in time" could have prevented the whole mess ten years ago when Brooksley Born was ringing alarms all over Washington, and Larry Summers was making sure nobody listened, now the same little snowball which Ms. Born detected in its very beginnings has doubled its snow-mass again and again and again and turned into a regular avalanche.

But not every avalanche is a roaring monster consuming skiers and chalets and tiny Swiss villages on its way to the bottom of the mountain, because mountainsides all over the world are terraced with avalanche-fences to stop little avalanches before they grow, and almost every avalanche-fence in the world is located somewhere between the top of a slope and the middle, because by the time an avalanche gets anywhere near the bottom of a mountain, you need something more like the Great Wall of China than any kind of fence to stop it.

This is a picturesque translation of the arguments Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz and Dean Baker and many other honest economists made for applying a realistic stimulus to the American economy before our current recession/depression developed too much momentum, but instead we got a feeble and slow-motion stimulus full of tax-cuts, like a rickety fence that wouldn’t even stop a rabbit, much less an avalanche, and the American economy is still bleeding ten or fifteen or twenty thousand jobs every day.

Jacob Freeze

Jacob Freeze

I'm a painter and photographer who supplements his meager income by hurling rotten fruit and screaming "Welcome to the Bu!" at the Humvees of hedge-fund managers and their nightmare spawn who get stuck in the ridiculously narrow drive-through at McDonald's in Malibu. They inevitably poop their pants and abandon the vehicle, which I subsequently strip and sell for parts, and that is how I can afford to live in Malibu.