'Slightly Above Zero': A Slogan for Our Age of Diminished Expectations
To hear the media tell it, all eyes are on the fiscal cliff. Which side is compromising and which side isn't? Which side's numbers add up? How can votes in the House and the Senate be structured for maximum political gain? What will the deal ultimately be? And, most important, which side will win and which side will lose? Is this great drama gripping the entire nation? Actually, only Washington and the media are transfixed. The rest of the nation is still absorbed by trying to make it in the struggling economy -- the same economy that will still be struggling after the champagne corks are popped as soon as the fiscal deal, whatever it may be, is announced in a few weeks. In fact, wherever you look, there are ominous signs that threaten to take our struggling economy over a much bigger cliff than the one looming on December 31st. And yet none of our political leaders seem to even be looking beyond the cliff, let alone planning for what happens next. No one is talking about a plan for real growth. Right now our entire conversation stops at the cliff's edge. But, unfortunately, our problems won't.
And yet, far from having a debate about growth, all we're currently talking about is how to avoid the latest self-imposed disaster. Right now, what's really being debated is how to preserve the status quo. And the status quo -- slightly above zero -- isn't very good. In fact, for millions it's an utter disaster. And if you dig down into the meager job growth we've had, it's easy to see that not all job growth is created equal. As Barry Ritholtz points out, jobs from low-wage industries have made up 51 percent of private sector job growth in the past year. "Growth itself is increasingly not much of a solution to a weak economy, when so many new jobs are like those in retail," writes David Callahan of Demos. "We can't build a good economy on bad jobs."