Let's face it: We're in a depression, not a recession, and there's no end in sight

If the notion that we are merely living through the aftereffects of a mere “recession” that ended in 2009 sounds somewhat ridiculous, that’s because it is. If we were being honest with ourselves, we would call this a depression. That would certainly better convey both the severity of our problems, and the fact that those problems have no evident solutions.

The American economy currently has both a short-term problem and a long-term problem. The short-term problem is that the economy is depressed; it is growing more slowly than the population, with the result that per capita income is declining. The high rate of un- and underemployment is a factor, but is itself the product of other factors, having mainly to do with the reluctance of over-indebted consumers (over-indebted in major part because of loss of equity in their houses, the major source of household wealth) to spend, the reluctance of the impaired banking industry to make risky loans, and the reluctance of businesses to invest and to hire, which is due in part to weak consumer spending and in part to profound uncertainty about the nation’s economic future…

The public debt won’t continue to grow at 17 or 18 percent a year, but suppose it grows at 7 percent a year. Then the already very large federal deficit will continue to grow, and indeed, to compound: At a 7 percent annual growth rate, our public debt in 2012, estimated at $12.4 trillion, will grow by 40 percent in five years if none of the reforms designed to limit that growth are implemented before the end of that period. Yet if they are implemented while the economy is still struggling, the result may actually be to increase the deficit by driving tax revenues down (because incomes will be depressed) despite the elimination of loopholes, and by increasing transfer payments to the unemployed and others hard hit by the economic crisis.