Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Dow reaches all-time high

The Dow Jones industrial average, a stock market metric, has just reached a new all-time high. Good news - for me, certainly, and hopefully for the whole country.

But I think it's kind of funny, too. That first arrow indicates when Barack Obama first took office in 2009. Under George W. Bush, our economy had cratered, ending in the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression.

Only our social safety net, which we largely put in place after the Great Depression and which Republicans have been working hard to dismantle, kept this from being even worse than that earlier collapse. Only the remaining regulations on banks, which Republicans had also been working hard to dismantle, kept our economy afloat.

Well, Obama's stimulus measures helped, too, but that barely offset the wholesale cuts at other levels of government. Overall, we didn't do much government stimulus - not nearly enough - since state and local governments slashed payrolls, making the problem even worse. But, of course, we also bailed out big banks (that started under Bush) and kept our automotive industry from collapse (that was Obama, against the opposition of Republicans).

But this worked. Obama quickly halted the collapse, and ever since, we've been slowly climbing out of that hole Bush dug for us.

The overall economy doesn't look nearly this healthy, though. The stock market is a leading economic indicator, and employment is a lagging indicator. And everything Obama has done has been in the face of fierce resistance from Republicans who see improvement as a political danger.

They were desperate to keep us in recession, so they'd have an easier time defeating Obama in 2012. Well, that failed, though they've caused a lot of misery along the way. And now? Well, they seem to be stuck in opposition. No matter what Obama does - even adopting a Republican health care plan, even nominating a conservative Republican as Secretary of Defense - gets a knee-jerk response of instant opposition.

But there are a couple of things which are particularly funny about this. Before I get to that, though, let me quote from Steve Benen:
To reiterate a point from a few months ago, the New York Times recently found that over the last half-century, the president who's overseen the strongest performance on Wall Street was Bill Clinton, and the second best, by a wide margin, is Barack Obama.

And as we discussed in October, the real fun begins when we reminisce about what Obama's Republican critics were saying in early 2009. Indeed, the Wall Street Journal ran an entire editorial in early March 2009 arguing that the weak Dow Jones was a direct result of investors evaluating "Mr. Obama's agenda and his approach to governance."

Karl Rove and Lou Dobbs made the same case. So did Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Fred Barnes. For a short while, it was one of Mitt Romney's favorite talking points, too. Even John Boehner got in on the larger attack.

I don't think a strong stock market is necessarily proof of a robust economy, but the right shouldn't try to have it both ways. If a bear market in 2009 is, in the minds of conservatives, clear proof that Obama's agenda is misguided and dangerous, then soaring Wall Street indexes shouldn't be dismissed by those same detractors as politically irrelevant.

First, I remember those right-wing critics in March, 2009. And I remember thinking that they'd been wrong about everything during the Bush administration. Seriously, I don't think that's an exaggeration. Did they get anything right then? If so, I can't imagine what it might have been.

So I figured it would be smarter to bet on the exact opposite happening, and, for that reason and others, I took every bit of cash I could scrape up (not much, after the Bush years) and invested it in the stock market. See that low point in the chart? Yup, Obama's critics weren't just wrong, they were spectacularly wrong.

The stock market will go down eventually. After all, that's what the stock market does. If you don't expect ups and downs, you have no business investing at all.

And note that the right-wing has been working very hard to make that happen. They've done everything up to deliberately damaging America's credit rating to collapse our economy again. And they will undoubtedly point to any drop as evidence backing up their own position. But just look at that chart.

And the second thing is,... well, you know how the wealthiest people in America have been screaming about Obama? Well, guess who owns almost all of the stock in this country? (Refer to my earlier post, if necessary.)

Yes, the wealthy have been making out like bandits ever since Barack Obama took office. And the wealthier you are, the more stock you own, so those billionaires who've been the most unhappy are the same people who've been doing the best. Do you wonder why their tax bills have gone up? It's because they've been making lots and lots more money!

If you're a schoolteacher, a fireman, a policeman, you might have lost your job in government cutbacks. If you're making almost nothing, your hours might have been cut because greedy CEOs - who enjoy a lavish health insurance benefit themselves - don't want to offer health insurance to you. If you're lucky enough to still have a job, you might be facing drastic cuts in hours and pay because of the sequester.

But if you're rich, you're doing great. If you get most of your income from investments (as I do, admittedly, though I'm far from rich), you've been making money hand over fist, plus you pay a lower tax rate than working people, too! (I'm just embarrassed at how little I pay in income taxes, thanks to tax shelters and low rates on capital gains and dividends.)

The stock market tends to be a leading indicator, which is why so many people lost their jobs in 2009 - after Barack Obama took over - even though the stock market crashed in 2008. Employment generally lags, because companies usually don't want to fire people unless it's necessary, and they really don't want to hire new people until they're sure they'll need them (and can't offshore to cheaper workers overseas).

So this is a good sign for the general economy. However, it's far from determinant. And Republicans in Congress are still trying to throw a monkey wrench into the works. This sequestration is bad for a weak economy, and if Congressional Republicans get crazy enough to shut down the government (again), we could end up right back in a deep recession, before we've even climbed very far out of the last one!

But when you hear the wealthy whine about paying more taxes, and when you hear their Republican stooges echo that complaint, think about that graph, above. Remember who owns most of America and who's been making money hand over fist throughout this administration - indeed, for the past thirty years or more.

Given all that, do you feel a lot of sympathy for millionaires and billionaires? I don't.

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