Death, Taxes and add a third - Wonky Economy. It seems this has been a constant in American culture ever since the country got started. Fear of the economy being too good and fear of the economy being too bad. The delicate art of keeping our finances on razor sharp balance while everything else goes quietly out of its collective mind.
And it was no different in 1961. A new administration and a new set of concerns. The ever-present R-word bandied around, the wary eye cast an unemployment figures. The debt. The Budget.
One of those advisers to the newly installed JFK White House was Dr. Paul A. Samuelson, Professor of Economics at MIT. He was asked his assessment during an April episode of Meet the Press in 1961.
Paul A. Samuelson: “The long run problem that I’m a little bit worried about is this: At the peak of the business cycle in 1953 we had unemployment of below 3%. At the peak of 1957-1958 we did not go back to that level of unemployment, we went to a higher level of unemployment. Worst of all, at the peak of 1960, last year, our unemployment was very high indeed. So that, at the present time according to my calculations, which differ a little bit from the official calculations because of the technicalities with respect to seasonal adjustment, we have about 7% unemployment. And when you look at the post-War period, each successive peak has been accompanied by more and more unemployment. So that when we look at our recent rate of growth, during the campaign this was a partisan matter that was a great amount of talk about growthsmanship and a parlor numbers game. I think now that the campaign is over and the experts look at the problem very coolly, it does become apparent to almost all of them that our rate of growth is very slow. It’s very slow compared with . . .I won’t say compared with the Soviet Union, there’s some exaggeration there as you know. But with respect to the other free enterprise nations; Japan, Western Germany, Italy, France – a colleague of mine wanted to study economy in decay. He picked France. It turned around on him. It’s growing much more vigorously than we are. So that, in terms of our own history, in terms of our previous post war pattern, in terms of other free enterprise economies, to say nothing of the Soviet Union, we seem to have been doing inadequately.”
And the Parlor Numbers game continues, some fifty years later. Only now the pessimism is worldwide.
Misery loves company I suppose.