Jelani Cobb’s Odd Prediction and Rose Colored Glasses

“We must reinforce argument with results” – Booker T. Washington

I read an article earlier today by one Jelani Cobb titled “What We Talk About When We Talk About Reparations.” As you can guess from the title, the article discusses the notion of reparations for slavery, specifically enslavement of Africans by white Americans in the early years of the country. Now, I have a number of thoughts about the reparations discussion (particularly after reading parts of Ta Nehisis Coates’ “The Case for Reparations” linked in the previous article) – but this post is not about reparations.

Instead, this post is about what can only be seen as a prediction by Cobb regarding the economic outcomes of the next 2.5 years:

We are discussing reparations at this moment because in two years Barack Obama will leave the White House, having repaired the economic collapse that greeted his inauguration, but with African-Americans still unemployed at a rate twice that of whites, and struggling to see how this world differs from the status quo ante.

That, my friends, is a prediction. Cobb is predicting that in a little over two years, when Barack Obama leaves the White House (a proposition certainly disputed by the tinfoil hatters, who expect him to set up martial law) that the economic collapse that greeted his inauguration will have been “repaired”.

Well, I suppose it’s possible. I suppose that the unrecovery of the past 5 years, that has seen a drop in unemployment rate attributable solely to people leaving the workforce and/or taking part time menial labor jobs will hold up for another 2.5 years and provide Obama “cover” to leave town as an economic success. I suppose the unrecovery that has been prodded along due to untold printing by the Federal Reserve, the consequences of which are so far outside of the normal operating space of monetary policy that we don’t even know how to measure their extent, will limp along for another 2.5 years (and perhaps another $2,000,000,000,000 or so in printed vapor) and leave Obama with an out. I suppose it’s possible.

Don’t misunderstand. This is not a defense of Bush-era economic policies. My question is simply back to Cobb and other traditional Obama supporters and acolytes: what if it all unwinds before then? What if the bubble in the bond market and bubble in the stock market don’t hold together, and we see another major “correction” in both, resulting in a collapse of baby-boomer retirement plans, collapse of home prices (again), and collapse of consumer confidence that effects a generation. What if the veil is lifted and we find out that nothing has actually been fixed, but troubles were papered over long enough for the wealthy elites to get their stolen goods together and make for the exits? What if? Will that be enough to say that Obama’s policies are not good? Will that be enough to say that Obama’s policies are no better than Bush’s? Will that be enough to abandon their defense? (Not defense of Obama in general, but just defense of his economic record.)

(Sidebar: Bush’s “problem” wasn’t bad economic policy. Sure, his policies were bad, but that was a given – he didn’t introduce massive structural reforms to unrig the game, so his policies were naturally going to be bad. The problem he faced was that he left office too late. Had he left a year sooner he could have pinned the collapse on someone after him … like Clinton did. I suspect Obama faces the same challenge. He won’t be out of office before the next unravel.)

And what about that unemployment rate, Dr. Cobb?  Why is it that unemployment amongst African Americans is twice that amongst whites (no better than it was when Obama took office … and had 2 years of filibuster proof majorities in both houses of congress).

OK. I’m rambling. You get the picture. It is presumptuous to think that the next 2.5 years will be on economic cruise control and that we will have “fixed” the misallocation of capital from the last bubble. Will it be Obama’s fault if things sour from here? No more or less than the “Great Recession” was Bush’s fault. The president has certain authority, certain ability to make changes to the system. If he chooses to take on the entrenched interests, then he can likely make a better place for you and me (yes, that’s a Michael Jackson lyric). If he stays true to his Wall Street benefactors (and all indications are that Obama has done just that), well, you can guess how it will end for the rest of us.

More on reparations as time allows.

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