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Grimly Predicting a "Jarring End to the Pax Americana"

Kevin "Sad" Sack writes: "Now, Americans feel a loss of autonomy, in their own lives and in the nation. Their politics are driven by the powerlessness they feel to control their financial well-being, their safety, their environment, their health and the country's borders. They question whether each generation will continue to ascend the economic ladder. That the political system seems so impotent only deepens their frustration and their insistence on results."

Reporter Kevin Sack (who returned to the NYT last year after a long stint with the Los Angeles Times) made Thursday's front page with a grim think-piece tracking the dismal mood of Americans, "Voters Showing a Darker Mood Than in '00 Race."


"As the candidates fan out to New York and California and here to the heartland, they are confronting an electorate that is deeply unsettled about the United States' place in the world and its ability to control its own destiny.


"Since World War II, the assumption of American hegemony has never been much in doubt. That it now is, at least for some people, has given this campaign a sense of urgency that was not always felt in 2000, despite the dramatic outcome of that race.


"Several writers and historians remarked on the psychological impact of such a jarring end to the Pax Americana, just as it seemed that victory in the cold war might usher in prolonged prosperity and relative peace (save the occasional mop-up operation). Its confluence with an era of unparalleled technological innovation had only heightened the nation's sense of post-millennial possibility.


"Now, Americans feel a loss of autonomy, in their own lives and in the nation. Their politics are driven by the powerlessness they feel to control their financial well-being, their safety, their environment, their health and the country's borders. They question whether each generation will continue to ascend the economic ladder. That the political system seems so impotent only deepens their frustration and their insistence on results.


"As she considers this campaign, Susan C. Powell, a 47-year-old training consultant who lives in a Kansas City suburb, said that what she feels is not so much hopelessness as doom."


One cheer for Sack for working in a conservative complaint about porous borders, but the overall tone is quite dire. "Sad Sack"'s offering works as a companion piece to economics reporter-columnist David Leonhardt's prominent analysis on Wednesday's front-page on the Fed's big interest rate cut, which was spurred by recession fear. Leonhardt delves even further into economic miseries than Sack, with a headline suggesting things were never that good to begin with: "Worries That the Good Times Were a Mirage."



"So, how bad could this get?


"Until a few months ago, it was accepted wisdom that the American economy functioned far more smoothly than in the past. Economic expansions lasted longer, and recessions were both shorter and milder. Inflation had been tamed. The spreading of financial risk, across institutions and around the world, had reduced the odds of a crisis.


"Back in 2004, Ben Bernanke, then a Federal Reserve governor, borrowed a phrase from an academic research paper to give these happy developments a name: 'the great moderation.'


"These days, though, the great moderation isn't looking quite so great - or so moderate.


"The recent financial turmoil has many causes, but they are tied to a basic fear that some of the economic successes of the last generation may yet turn out to be a mirage. That helps explain why problems in the American subprime mortgage market could have spread so quickly through the world's financial system. On Tuesday, Mr. Bernanke, who is now the Fed chairman, presided over the steepest one-day interest rate cut in the central bank's history.


....


"But a recession is now more likely than not. It may well have started already. The Philadelphia Fed reported Tuesday that the economy shrank in 23 states last month, including Ohio, Missouri and Arizona, and was stagnant in seven others. California and Florida, with their plunging home values, may soon join the recession list.


"The bigger question is how severe the recession will be if it does come to pass. The last two, in 1990-1 and 2001, have been rather mild, which is a crucial part of the great moderation mystique. There are three reasons, though, to think the next recession may not be."