The country is not as bad economically as critics portray it to be

Monday, May 12, 2008 | 10:00 a.m. CDT; updated 2:46 p.m. CST, Monday, February 2, 2009

“Gloom, despair and agony on me, deep dark depression, excessive misery — if it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all.” A refrain from the 1969-1992 “Hee Haw” TV show appears to have infected the psyche and prognostications of the majority of political commentators, candidates for elected office, columnists — both syndicated and local — and much of the general public with a malaise not seen since the Carter administration. If you are unfamiliar with “Hee Haw,” it was entertainment appealing largely to those today identified as embittered rednecks and yokels “clinging to religion and guns” as solace from a government that has failed them.

This continued blaming of government, corporations, lobbyists, the wealthy, anti-environmentalists, oil companies et al for all of the real or imagined ills of the day is not only unhealthily negative, it also stretches the truth beyond the parameters of logic and reason. In my lifetime, we have recovered from a great depression and several recessions of differing magnitudes, triumphed in a World War, survived several serious protest movements, overcame the evil, incompetent and dishonest administrations of whichever party happened to be in power and even circumvented the certain disaster forecast by the advent of rock and roll music.

Admittedly, the quadrennial presidential race is a major contributor to this rhetorical overkill inasmuch as the pending election is the opportunity for the out-of-power party to fault the other for everything from fear and famine to pestilence and death. While this is the natural fodder of political campaigns, the underlying message that the country is going to hell in a hand basket, that the working poor and the middle class are endangered species and that the sole solution rests in creating more and bigger government entitlement programs, is hardly more than pandering to the proponents of class envy and social engineers.

First, to paraphrase Mark Twain, The rumors of the death of the middle class have been greatly exaggerated should be obvious to anyone who frequents shopping malls, restaurants, sporting events and other entertainment venues and finds parking lots filled with late model automobiles, often waits to be seated for meals, long lines of shoppers and traffic jams. I doubt seriously the majority of these are of “the wealthiest 1 percent” but are, in actuality, members of the middle class.

The “woeful” plight of the working poor is likewise unsupportable as the Department of Labor has standardized a range of 5 percent to 6 percent unemployed as full employment — current unemployment stands at 5.2 percent, up from the 4.5 of the past two years but within the margin. The earnings of the so-called working poor will always lag behind that of the middle and upper echelons, simply because as the poor move up to middle class, they are replaced by entry level minimum wage earners — a natural progression.

The national angst over rising fuel, grocery and energy costs is understood; nevertheless we have faced crises before and have managed to overcome them. Contrary to the prevailing opinions, Vietnam did not bankrupt the economy; petroleum deposits did not dry up in the ’70s; the predicted world famine and ice age did not occur; and we avoided a nuclear holocaust with the USSR.

There will ever be whiners, malcontents and free-ride seekers, but I continue to have faith in the spirit, perseverance, optimism and pride that has made America the inspiration as well as the breadbasket of the world. To the pessimists, the blame America firsters and other purveyors of hopelessness, I ask: If the United States is now a world pariah, why is it the preferred destination of immigrants seeking a better life?

Many of us can remember when gasoline sold for as little as 14 cents per gallon and the going minimum wage was 40 cents to 50 cents an hour. A rising cost of goods always triggers a commensurate increase in wages, but it is not always immediate — the market will eventually correct itself. The historical precedent peculiar to our society shows that every recession is succeeded by one of prosperity which is engineered by private enterprise rather than by government.

The mission of government in ending the economic slowdown is to provide opportunity for continued job growth through private enterprise rather than by the promise of cradle-to-grave entitlement. Those who promise free health care, college educations, et al should be viewed with suspicion — after all, the government cannot give a dollar to anyone with first taking it from the one who earned it.

J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the

U.S. Marine Corps. He can be reached via

e-mail at

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