Thomas Carlyle called economics “the dismal science” because Robert Malthus theorized that the food supply could not keep up with population growth. Therefore, all the improvements to society that let everyone live longer, happier lives would ultimately result in mass starvation. But I suspect the epithet persists because economists tend to deal with numbers, and numbers have very little regard for our wishful thinking. For example, although the odds of winning the lottery are astronomical, people still play because calculating probability is not instinctive and thus there is no feeling of impossibility associated with nearly impossible odds. This is exacerbated somewhat by the fanfare surrounding every hundred-million-dollar winner. Basically, no one wants that glimmer of hope extinguished by cold calculation.

For this financial crisis and (one hopes) recovery, Paul Krugman is America’s Buzz Killington. In his column today, Krugman pointed out that we are not even close to being out of the woods. For every available job, there are six people who need it and next year the Obama administration projects unemployment will still be nearly ten percent. Krugman further points out that the Congressional Budget Office projects that over the next three years the output gap will be over two trillion dollars. What’s more, there is expected to be a rise in child poverty. Dismal indeed. This picture is a striking contrast to the cautious optimism of Wall St. and the proclamations of several economists that the recession is essentially over. And just like his warnings that the stimulus package wasn’t big enough, no one really wants to hear it.

The really scary thing here is that he is probably right. Anyone who has fruitlessly applied for a hundred jobs in the past year can aver that a jobless recovery is not really a recovery. President Obama’s talent for compromise, which is invaluable for most policy matters, is a liability in economic matters. Most Americans prefer moderation; no one but Ron Paul wants to dismantle the Fed, but on the other hand, enormous budget deficits make people very uncomfortable. The problem is that numbers don’t care about our comfort. If the current stimulus spending is not enough then it is not enough, no matter how much we want it to be.

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