When historians look back on 2014, they will note not just how flagrantly Vladimir Putin disregarded international law or how stubbornly Gaza and Israel kept firing missiles at each other. They will also be puzzled at how poorly the United States handled its economy.
They undoubtedly will conclude that 2014 was a year of missed opportunities.
The world’s record in dealing with bullies and tyrants has not been good; it remains to be seen if economic sanctions work with the lawless Putin whose takeover of Crimea has led to a series of disasters for scores of innocent people. Thus far sanctions have not worked. The incredible brutality of the missiles raining down in the Middle East feels like the mindless violence in Game of Thrones. The intransigence of people who live so closely together is mind-boggling, as are the staggering numbers of children who are dying and being maimed.
But the economic warfare in the United States also will have serious worldwide consequences for years to come that are preventable.
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• America’s labor force is not growing and, even more alarming, its productivity is falling.
• America’s long-envied middle class is disappearing. Millions of workers are being paid insufficient wages and benefits. Their families are suffering as corporations plow billions of dollars in profits not into new jobs but into offshore accounts and businesses.
The number of working-age Americans increased 1.2 percent each year in the 1990s. In 2013, it increased only 0.4 percent. Because of the slow rebound from the 2008 recession, millions have stopped looking for work. Many couples of child-bearing age are afraid for economic reasons to have children. The influx of immigrants, including the highly skilled, who traditionally have helped to grow the economy, has stopped. Congress, which should fix the problem, is broken.
The number of government jobs is down because of cuts at all levels of government. Investments that should be made in America’s decrepit infrastructure from roads to bridges to ports to airports to rails are not happening. Unwilling to take risks because of the inability of political leaders in Washington to compromise to get anything done, businesses are contributing to economic stagnancy.
Job retraining programs, vitally needed to put workers in new high-tech jobs that are going begging, are mostly a joke. At the same time, the number of people on disability has doubled to 9 million in the last 15 years. Productivity, dependent on risk-taking and innovation, is declining. Only 63 percent of working-age Americans are actually employed.
Government incentives to keep home-grown businesses and industries from moving abroad have been slow in coming. The long-promised tax reforms to help businesses cope with the changing global business climate disappeared along with Brigadoon.
It’s difficult to justify outrage over the failure of Palestinians and Israelis to act in the best interests of their people when Democrats and Republicans on The Hill can’t do it either.
It is the tiniest bit hypocritical for us to condemn Putin’s appalling lack of humanitarianism when one of our governors (read Texas Gov. Rick Perry) orders 1,000 National Guard troops to turn back starving children who have traveled 1,000 miles without their parents to get to our southern border.
Eventually even Russian stud-muffin/KGB agent Putin will be out of power; sooner or later a cease-fire in the Middle East will be worked out. But the damage to the U.S. economy will take much longer to repair. And everybody who caused it will be gone. Only the historians will be around to cast the blame where it should go — the nincompoops in government who couldn’t do business with each other.
Ann McFeatters is an op-ed columnist for McClatchy-Tribune.