Sluggish growth and high unemployment are increasingly just accepted.

Nations probably never choose decline, at least not consciously. More likely they become victims of a creeping normalcy. Things once objectionable can become passively acceptable if they happen slowly, incrementally: the boiling-frog syndrome. Decline just sort of happens, year by year, decade by decade, one “meh” economic report at a time.

Last Thursday the U.S. Commerce Department reported that fourth-quarter GDP fell at a 0.1 percent annual rate. For the year, the U.S. economy grew a meager 2.2 percent. That’s a bit better than 2011, but about a percentage point less than what most economists think is the economy’s current potential. Even worse, the first few recovery years after deep downturn typically exhibit abnormally strong catch-up growth. But that’s not happening post–Great Recession. White House spokesman Jay Carney conceded the obvious, that the negative quarterly report was “not good news,” and then blamed congressional Republicans for creating a “headwind” of political uncertainty.

Continue reading →