The American Economy is Not Coming Back

President Barack Obama and his economic team are being careful to couch all their talk about economic stimulus programs and bank bailout programs in warnings that the economic downturn is serious and that it will take considerable time to bounce back.

I’m reminded of an experience I had with Chinese medicine when I was living in Shanghai back in 1992. I had come down with a nasty case of the flu while teaching journalism at Fudan University on a Fulbright Scholar program. A Chinese colleague suggested I go to the university clinic. When I told him there wasn’t much point since doctors couldn’t do much for the flu besides recommend fluids and bed rest, he said, “That’s Western doctors. You could go to the Chinese medicine doctors at the clinic. They can help you.”  I figured, what the hell, and we went.  The doctor inquired into the lurid details of my illness—how my bowel movements looked, the color of the mucus in my nose, etc.  He didn’t really examine me physically. Then he prescribed an incredible number of pills and teas and sent me home with a huge bag of stuff, and instructions on the regimen for taking them through the course of each day.  I followed the directions dutifully, and my colleague came by each day to check on my progress.  By the fifth day, when I was still running a fever and feeling terrible, I told him I didn’t think the Chinese medicine was working.  He replied confidently, “Chinese medicine takes a long time to work.”

I laughed at this.  “Sure,” I said. “But the flu only lasts a week or so, and now, when I get better, you’ll say it was the Chinese medicine, right?”

He smiled and agreed. “Yes. You are right.”

Obviously the Obama administration recognizes that it needs to keep the finger of blame for the current economic collapse squarely pointed at the Bush administration, which is certainly fair in large part (though the Clinton deregulation of the banking industry played a major part in the financial crisis and its enthusiastic promotion of globalization began the massive shift of jobs overseas that has left the nation’s productive capacity hollowed out). But it also seems to recognize that it cannot tell the bitter truth, which is that our national economy will never “bounce back” to where it was in 2007.

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