Debating the Economics of Decline

Thomas Edsall, a professor of journalism at Columbia University and author of The Age of Austerity, has an interesting discussion in the New York Times “Opinionator” section today in which he compares two prominent theses about American decline.

The first thesis is articulated and defended by prominent conservatives such as Charles Murray and David Brooks. The basic claim made by Murray among others is that the radical cultural shifts of the 1960’s led to the destruction of basic social norms that had governed public life in America in the post-war era of prosperity, including “self-restraint, responsibility, family, faith and country.”

Some of the evidence for the decline of “conventionally defined moral standards” include the following indicators:  “The percentage of children born to unwed mothers has grown from 20 percent in 1984, when Murray published his seminal work, Losing Ground, to 41 percent in 2011; the rate among black women has gone from 59 percent to 72 percent, among white women from 12 percent to 29 percent and among Hispanic women 25 percent to 53 percent.”

Alan Krueger, who is Chairman of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors, defends the second thesis that America’s decline can primarily be traced to rampant corporate greed unleashed by deregulation of the economy in the 1980’s. Consider this selection from his recent speech to graduates at Oberlin College:

In considering reasons for the growing wage gap between the top and everyone else, economists have tended to shy away from considerations of fairness and instead focus on market forces, mainly technological change and globalization. But given the compelling evidence that considerations of fairness matter for wage setting, I would argue that we need to devote more attention to the erosion of the norms, institutions and practices that maintain fairness in the job market. We also need to focus on the policies that can lead to more widely shared – and stronger – economic growth. It is natural to expect that market forces such as globalization would weaken norms and institutions that support fairness in wage setting. Yet I would argue that the erosion of the institutions and practices that support fairness has gone beyond market forces.

Although there are important cultural factors to consider in the first thesis, particularly the entry of women as a class into the workforce and the decline of racial segregation, what is compelling about the latter thesis is the economic evidence. In a nutshell, Krueger points to several trends that are alarming:

First, corporate profits as a percentage of GDP have risen exponentially along with executive compensation. If that’s the case, he asks, they why hasn’t a percentage of that record profiteering led to an increase in real wages. If corporations are doing so well, the thought is that workers ought to receive some share of the benefits they helped to create. But this hasn’t happened.

The second trend is that real wages have not kept up with rising output. One reason why corporate profits are so high is that workers are more productive, a trend that has accelerate in the last 20 years due to technological innovations, as well as social media and communication improvements. While rising output has improved profits, real wages have declined.

Finally, the growth of income inequality is telling. Professor Emmanuel Saez, a Berkeley economist, released a study in January showing that the first 2 years of recover after 2008, “average family income grew by a modest 1.7 percent, ‘but the gains were very uneven. Top 1 percent incomes grew by 11.2 percent while bottom 99 percent incomes shrunk by 0.4 percent.’” This means, in effect, that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, and this signals more than anything that America’s decline is primarily rooted in economic and political factors rather than the moral and cultural factors cited by conservatives.

Since Congress will not do its job, the “fiscal cliff” will do it for them

The failure of Congress to make substantial economic reform is nowhere more visible than in the present hysteria regarding the “fiscal cliff” and its consequences for the federal budget and American economy.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Republicans have painted themselves into an awkward corner. They are unwilling to raise taxes on anyone, anywhere thanks to Grover Norquists’s anti-tax pledge and Tea Party extremism, but automatic rate increases and spending cuts are set to kick in once the Bush tax cut extension expires on the first of the New Year. This unwillingness to bend is an ideological straight-jacket that may lead them to break their pledge, all without casting a single vote.

The failure to reach a compromise with the more moderate Senate and President Obama means that Republicans are effectively going to raise taxes on all Americans including its most vulnerable citizens. What does this mean in financial terms?

• The poorest Americans making less than $20,000 a year would  have to pay more to the IRS. The average increase would be $590—a significant sum for low-income earners.
• Those earning more than $40,000 a year would also be significantly affected with tax hikes averaging about $1200.
• Those earning between $40,000 and $64,000 annually would see an average increase of nearly $2,000.
• Those earning $108,000 or more also face an increase of nearly $13,000.

Not only will rates increase—immediately effecting payroll taxes and decreasing the daily earnings of American workers, potentially undermining effective demand and triggering another recession—automatic spending cuts will set in, leading to reductions in basic social services that are also essential for the most vulnerable Americans. Unfortunately, we live in a time of political extremism with an opposition party that has stated it wants to “shrink” the federal government. (Since metaphors are all the rage in politics these days, it is important to point out that “shrink” means “wreck” here.)

The metaphor of the the “fiscal cliff” has been thrown out haphazardly— scaring investors, dragging down markets, and creating unwarranted fear. The damage of going over the cliff is unknown in terms of the long-term financial viability of the federal government paying its debt obligations, but the real damage is to average American workers who will take home less income, shoulder more than their fair share in tax revenue, and pay more out-of-pocket expenses for everything ranging from food to health care.

The statutory tax increases and spending cuts basically do what Congress is supposed to do in the first place, however. The inability of Republicans to compromise on the budget has led to a legislative impasse that the “fiscal cliff” resolves in extreme terms. In short, the automatic hikes and cuts does the job of politicians for them, but the form it takes will hurt real American workers and initiate a new wave of political cynicism about government in this country.

Americans return Obama to the job

The most expensive election campaign in U.S. history came to an end yesterday. According to FEC and independent estimates over $4 billion was spent in the race between President Obama and former Gov. Mitt Romney. Although the race appeared to be tight, and in the final days appeared to be a dead heat, in the end the electoral map barely changed and Obama was swept into power with 303 electoral college votes and a much slimmer margin of victory by popular vote. (This morning Florida’s 29 electoral college votes are still undecided as counting continues in that state. The race is very close there with Obama ahead by a mere .07 of a percent.)

The balance of power in Washington remained largely the same despite the large sums of money thrown into this race by individuals, parties, and Super PACs alike. Democrats picked up 1 additional seat in the Senate and 2 additional seats in the House. The President returns for a second term to confront the political gridlock that stymied efforts in his first term to pass a comprehensive jobs bill and financial regulation. The country is poised to dip back into recession as growth slows, revenues drop, job creation remains slack, and the soaring deficit run amok. To avoid another financial cliff more compromise by the Republican Party will be needed, but whether it can get beyond its vicious anti-Obama sentiments in order to do the hard work of governing remains to be seen. It is, in fact, doubtful given its track record during the President’s first term.

In other electoral results the news for progressive politics was largely great. The night was a major political victory for the Constitution and gay and lesbian politics. In Wisconsin, Rep. Tammy Baldwin defeated former governor Tommy Thompson by a decent margin, making her the first lesbian elected to the U.S. Senate. Voters in Maryland and Maine voted to legalize same-sex marriage, while voters in Minnesota rejected a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. Referendum 74 to legalize same-sex marriage in the state of Washington was ahead in the polls, and with King County still tallying its ballots the measure will most likely pass. These important votes in four states represents a water-shed moment for the equality movement because they are the first time states have voted to uphold rather than deny the constitutional rights of gay and lesbian citizens. Minds really do change.

The election was also an important victory to bring the senseless and costly war on marijuana to an end. Voters in Washington and Colorado voted to legalize recreational use of the drug. Although a similar measure failed in Oregon, this represents a direct challenge to the federal government by states to change its drug policy. Recent backlash against medical marijuana users by the DEA in California and other states is a case in point why the federal law needs to change to accommodate states’ rights.

Here in California, several important initiatives passed. Voters passed Prop 30 to raise taxes on the wealthiest Californians and temporarily increase sales taxes in order to avoid otherwise devastating cuts to education. Although Prop 34 to eliminate the death penalty did not pass, it was by a narrow margin (53 to 47 percent), signaling the public’s shifting mood on capital punishment. In a victory for criminal justice Prop 36 to reform the state’s draconian “3 strikes” law passed by a wide margin, and this victory should bring some relief to an overcrowded prison system filled with non-violent offenders. Finally, the State Assembly is approaching Democratic supermajorities in both houses, which may help alleviate the state’s governance and budget problems.

In the end, American voters rejected Republican lies that deregulation and less taxes on the wealthy is the solution to a slow economic recovery. Across the nation, voters who were concerned about unemployment voted for Democrats by a significant margin. Perhaps people did not easily forget that 4 years ago the recession swept across America because of, not in spite of, those same policies. The question remains whether President Obama and Congress can get the job done and bring the economy back with healthy, sustainable growth. In the meantime, this victory of progress over the forces of reaction will almost certainly go down in the history books as a vindication of the hard work Obama has done bringing the country back from economic ruin and a crucial turning point in American politics.

 

Storm wreckage to disrupt election

Election Day is just two days away. The cost of Hurricane Sandy to the region is estimated to be around $60 billion. While the clean up crawls forward, tensions in the Northeast are running at an all time high. Many officials are now stating publicly that this untimely storm has had and will have adverse and unexpected consequences for the outcome of the presidential race.

In New Jersey, Connecticut, and parts of New York, voters will find it more difficult than usual to cast a ballot. Widespread damage from the storm and a lack of basic services is creating an organizational nightmare for election officials who must find adequate polling stations and resources to accommodate voters. In New Jersey, which absorbed the storm surge along its coast, state officials are finding other, novel means for voters to cast their ballots. Gov. Chris Christie announced yesterday that displaced citizens, and those living in areas hardest hit by the storm, may be able to vote this year by email ballot, an extreme measure for what many see as extreme circumstances.

Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno of New Jersey said voters may find polling stations at military trucks dispersed across the state with “a well-situated national guardsman and a big sign saying, ‘Vote Here.’”

The disruption of mail services across the Northeastern states will also slow the election process. In addition to absentee and mail-in ballots that are either delayed or gone missing, election officials are bracing for a larger influx of paper ballots that must be counted. All of these post-storm consequences are likely to delay the counting of votes and the certification of elections.

Even thought the states most affected by the storm sit firmly in President Obama’s column, some pundits are predicting that lower than average voter turnout in this region, increasing the likelihood of splitting the electoral college and popular vote. That scenario has been a popular one touted in policy and media circles the last few weeks as the race between Obama and Romney closed to a dead heat.

The President has pulled head slightly in some of the important swing states, but close polls show that America is still a nation more divided than ever by partisan lines—even during a time of national crisis.

Sandy douses Northeast, disrupts markets, campaigns and polling

Last year, Hurricane Irene was promoted by meteorologists and media-hype as the “storm of the century” but failed to develop the promised punch. This year, Sandy did not fail to deliver. The Category I hurricane slammed into New Jersey and New York, causing heavy damage and widespread flooding. There were also power disruptions across several states, leaving millions without electricity. Public officials estimate it will take days, possibly weeks, to restore the power grid.

Parts of lower Manhattan remain underwater today, as the tidal surge from Sandy deluged the coasts of New York and New Jersey.

Meanwhile, financial markets faced an unscheduled interruption on Monday and Tuesday as Wall Street shut down to brace for Sandy’s onslaught. The emergency conditions also disrupted the election as President Obama left the campaign trail to return to Washington Sunday night. In the early hours of Monday morning he declared New Jersey and New York and other parts of the Northeast federal disaster areas, and issued executive orders to ensure FEMA acted quickly to provide states with much needed resources. Governors Chris Christie of New Jersey and Andrew Cuomo of New York praised the quick actions of President Obama and federal relief agencies.

The specter of Hurricane Katrina lurked in the background. The Bush Administration’s failure in 2005 to handle that crisis speedily and competently led to widespread criticism of both President Bush and FEMA. Former Gov. Mitt Romney is on the record stating that responsibility for large natural disasters should devolve on states and private actors, but that untenable position is viewed with skepticism and hostility in the face of large, regional disasters affecting multiple states.

Today, President Obama toured the heavily damaged region of New Jersey’s shoreline with Gov. Christie, leaving the campaigning to former President Clinton and others who have stepped up their efforts in the last week to get out the vote in key swing states such as Ohio and Florida. In addition to disrupting campaign events, the lasting damage of the hurricane will make polling impossible in some places before the election. Many pundits and pollsters alike are bemoaning this event, but the disruption of both financial markets and polling can also be viewed as a timely reminder that Americans can be bipartisan, especially during times of national crises.

It remains to be seen whether adequate power is restored and weather conditions permit voters to get to the polls on election day next Tuesday, raising concerns that the storm might tilt the election in favor of one candidate or another in some important states such as Pennsylvania and Ohio.

Blame it on Obama? Don’t forget Republicans to blame for this mess

Tonight is the third and final presidential debate before the election next month. The primary focus of this debate in Boca Raton, FL will be foreign policy, but most commentators agree that the economy remains the number one concern on voters’ minds.

Former Gov. Mitt Romney will try to do two things in tonight’s debate:  capitalize on irrational anti-Obama discontent over the economy, and then displace it on the President’s record on foreign policy. Most experts agree that the Obama Administration has been deft and pragmatic on the international stage in a time of tumultuous change in the Middle East and a contracting global economy. Nevertheless, his detractors-cum-international-relations-experts grasp at straws. For example, they blame the President for the actions of Libyan terrorists in the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens. They also claim he is at fault for the widespread discontent in the Muslim world over the same things they are angry about, including diminished economic opportunities and a growing sense that the “system” is out of control. That is a lot of responsibility for someone with so little control over the ways of the world.

Such misplaced blame is a little like blaming God for bad luck. Why do bad things happen to good people? Their reaction is much like the first wave of Job’s reaction to his own suffering:  blame God.  Yet, the answer is more simple if not difficult to acknowledge openly. Instead of being honest about their responsibility for facilitating the present economic mess, or even being realistic about its scope and the time it will take to clean it up, Republicans such as Romney and Rep. Paul Ryan prefer instead to be guided by their anger, even their xenophobic and irrational fears that Barack Hussein Obama is not an authentic American. They place everything that is wrong both home and abroad squarely on his shoulders, rather than seeing the situation for what it is—the harvest reaped by their own policies of economic deregulation, expensive pre-emptive wars, and stupid tax cuts that the country could not afford in the first place. Job, too, was blind before he could see.

The cultivation of these irrational impulses by Fox News, the Republican establishment, and wealthy billionaires who are spending record amounts of their personal money to influence elections through Super PACs and commercial lies is revealing. Times are tough, so blame it on Obama.

If you have lost your job because Wall Street traders, investment bankers, and business executives over the last decade made bad decisions on unacceptably risky calculations with no accountability for their actions, blame it on Obama.

If you cannot find a job because American corporations no longer make real products requiring good paying jobs, while sitting on record mountains of cash that inflate their bottom lines to prop up the short-term, short-sighted expectations of greedy investors, blame it on Obama.

If you think the rising cost of health care is crippling small businesses, but prefer to do nothing about it rather than risk taking any steps along the road to reform, blame Obama.

Never mind that to blame Obama for pursuing health care reform, you have to ignore that former Gov. Romney is the original architect of “Obamacare” in Massachusetts. The truth of the Affordable Care Act is that it uses market principles to ensure that competition among private insurers brings down the cost of insuring all individuals who otherwise could not afford it and whose health care costs would be absorbed by those of us who can afford it—through higher premiums and spiraling emergency room costs. In short, you have to believe falsely in the rhetoric that the ACA is a government takeover of health care, and ignore the fact that it simply incentivizes private insurance and requires all individuals to be responsible for their own health care.

Gov. Romney has done nothing but run a competitive campaign in an easy political climate. It’s an easy thing to blame one man on the world’s problems. That pretty much sums up the Republican policy for turning American around:  get rid of the sitting Democratic president at all cost. But let’s not forget how we got into this mess in the first place. Let’s not forget that America is in a time of crisis because policy choices were made in the past, and they were poor choices. Reversing the consequences of those choices is not something that can be done overnight, let alone in four years. Blaming the President won’t change the past, even if we try to forget that it is the past that is prologue.

If “some” Americans think we cannot afford four more years of Obama, they should consider that the reason America cannot afford much of anything right now is due primarily to those poor policy choices. Demanding that we return power to the party that not only made those choices but want to make them all over again, is not a solution to America’s problems—it is a suicide pact we “other” Americans are wisely unwilling to go along with.

Justice Department, SEC give up investigation into Goldman Sachs

The Department of Justice announced it will not bring civil or criminal charges against investment bank Goldman Sachs, despite its probable violations of various banking and securities laws that precipitated the financial collapse of 2008. In a statement it released yesterday, investigators said they “ultimately concluded that the burden of proof to bring a criminal case could not be met based on the law and facts as they exist at this time.”

On the same day Goldman Sachs also revealed that the Securities and Exchange Commission was ending its investigation into a $1.3 billion subprime mortgage deal without bringing charges.

Given the close ties between Goldman Sachs and the government, the timing of these announcements raises red flags about the adequacy of banking and financial regulations and signals a lack of political will to hold large banks accountable for creating our present economic mess.

These announcements are surely disappointments to millions of mortgage holders, consumers, and taxpayers who are shouldering the costs of Goldman Sachs and other large banks’ complicated and ill-conceived banking practices. Although the Justice Department and SEC claim there is insufficient evidence to prosecute, these announcements in no way exonerate the large investment bank from its share of responsibility in creating and sustaining America’s largest financial disaster since the Great Depression.

Despite election year rhetoric pinning America’s economic problems on President Obama’s shoulder the real problem  appears to be lax Congressional oversight, impotent laws, and regulatory agencies with cozy ties to their friends in the banking industry. Without the political will in Congress to write stronger laws to regulate this industry, mortgage holders, consumers and taxpayers alike are unlikely to see any substantial relief from the financial and political corruption that is rife in this country.

Romney’s recent attacks mimic Republican lies on “welfare queens”

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney attacked President Obama on the campaign trail, claiming that an executive order issued this week through the Department of Health and Human Services significantly weakens work requirements for welfare recipients. Romney claims as a result that freeriders will increase the welfare rolls in states across the country, shirking their duty to work and increasing the burden on taxpayers like us.

Obama should run this recent Onion meme in response to Romney’s lies about welfare.

This spindrift spread quicker than one can say “Cadillac driving welfare queens”—which is Republican code for lazy African American women with lots of children who game the welfare system while being discouraged to work.

Romney’s attack is a cheap but familiar ploy in the Republican Party establishment. The phrase “welfare queen” was first introduced into the lexicon of American politics by President Reagan in his failed 1976 presidential campaign, and was later modified by former Republican presidential candidate Pat Buchanan, a speech writer for both Nixon and Reagan with well-documented racist views.

Let me be clear:  Romney’s assertion is a lie. The Obama campaign and many independent media and policy sources contend that the rule change does nothing of the sort. Rather, it gives states the kind of flexibility to make their own determination what counts as work and whether it changes the status of recipient benefits. Under the current austerity measures most states have adopted this will have the likely effect of decreasing rather than increasing the number of welfare recipients. This outcome is consistent with the purpose of welfare reform in the 1990’s that was—shockingly—spearheaded by bipartisanship between former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and former President Bill Clinton.

Romney’s lie also highlights two facts about his own position and track record that Americans should consider closely. First, Romney says he is for “states’ rights” and as governor asked for this same flexibility concerning welfare requirements, so any rule change by HHS to grant states more authority to determine their own requirements is consistent with his position. Second, the implicit claim that Obama is being easy on welfare recipients belies Romney’s own track record as governor of Massachusetts. The AP reports that “as governor, Romney offered welfare recipients free auto insurance, registration, inspections and memberships in AAA.”

Grandstand politicking and election year spindrift pushed aside, the rule change for welfare that gives states more authority to run their own show highlights a different issue that neither candidate has much traction on:  what do about unemployment, declining wages, and job insecurity.

Although Obama consistently hammers on the message of economic recovery and economic justice going hand in hand, there is a deficit of real policy prescriptions forthcoming about how to reverse the plight of working Americans who are hurting more than ever thanks to Republicanomics. He has been unable to get the Jobs Act passed by a recalcitrant and pitiless Congress. Romney’s record on jobs at Bain Capital is well-known:  lower wages, less job security, outsourcing, and anything else to make a fast buck.

The problem is that welfare is increasingly necessary in an economic climate where recovery is slowly grinding forward by the numbers, but without real jobs to make it effective and lasting. Moreover, economic inequality in this country is at its highest point since the Great Depression—the wealthiest Americans are reaping the most rewards while the rest of us are suffering. Furthermore, corporate profits and the mountains of cash they are sitting on are at near-record highs, but they refuse to invest in their country.

Forget about the facts, please. Let’s talk about those rich black “welfare queens” and how they are cheating us hardworking white males. That’s the real message Romney is purveying and it is putrid, ugly, and profoundly un-American.

July jobs report confirms weak pace of jobless economic “recovery”

The Labor Department released July’s employment figures today and once again there is little good news. According to the report the economy added 163,000 jobs last month even though the unemployment rate ratcheted up slightly to 8.3 percent. The number of additional jobs is mediocre by any other name, but the figure is double the jobs added in June and exceeded Wall Street’s doom-and-gloom forecast. This tarnished silver-lining was enough to provide the Obama administration with some spin traction by claiming that the “pace” of job growth is picking up.

Alan B. Krueger, the chairman of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, said that Obama’s jobs plan would help those economic sectors that are struggling the most during this jobless recession, namely, public sector employees and construction workers.

“If you look at today’s jobs report, where we saw declines were construction and government education jobs,” said Krueger. “The main components of the Jobs Act would target exactly those two areas, by investing more in infrastructure and helping local governments keep teachers and first responders on the payrolls. I think it’s the kind of medicine that’s well targeted to the continuing areas of weakness in the job market.”

The devil is in the details, of course, and today’s report also provided Republicans with ammunition for their nauseatingly familiar mantra:  less government, less regulation, and less taxes means more investment by the private sector. Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee, rehearsed the same tired lyrics Republicans have been singing for decades, laying the blame for America’s economic woes at the feet of the man who inherited the mess three years ago.

“This is an extraordinary record of failure. The president’s policies have not worked because he thinks government makes America work. He’s wrong,” Romney bleated.

Never mind that Obama has spent his first term cleaning up the mess left in the wake of Republican economic policy during the two terms that they controlled both the White House and Congress. Never mind the surpluses left by Clinton that Bush squandered. Never mind that the largest expansion of government spending since the New Deal was brought on by two wars and an expansion of Medicare. Never mind that the Republicans irrational fear of taxes has a created a climate in which it is impossible to govern because revenues are hamstrung by unaffordable tax cuts they want to keep extending into infinity. No, never mind the facts.

Admittedly, Obama’s economic policy has been less than admirable. Under Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, many of the same Wall Street-favoring features of the Bush years have continued:  bail outs for irresponsible (indeed, criminal) investment banks, failure to regulate volatile markets like derivatives where trading smoke-and-mirrors continues with no accountability, failure to regulate investment bank shenanigans, and an ineffective response to Republican rhetorical nonsense on taxes.

Nevertheless, it is doubtful that an economy as large and complex (and corrupt!) as America’s can be turned around on a dime, let alone a single term, so Romney’s exhortations ring as hollow as the Republican economic fantasy that markets can do everything if we just leave powerful private actors to do as they please.

Fed warnings on economic recovery accentuate stark political choices

In the minutes from its June meeting several Fed policymakers warned that the economy could worsen due to a number of factors, including Congressional failure to avert tax hikes and deep spending cuts that start at the end of this fiscal year. In addition, the minutes revealed a deep concern that Europe’s debt crisis will continue to hamper U.S. growth.

Some of the weaknesses highlighted included the following:

  • The economy created 80,000 jobs in June, which is the third consecutive month of weak job reports. The unemployment rate stands fixed at 8.2 percent, which is also a conservative estimate of the true and much larger toll taken during this so-called jobless recovery.
  • Employers added an average of 75,000 jobs a month in the last quarter, and only 1/3 of the 225,000 jobs a month created in the first three months of the year, showing that hiring and job creation has slowed to a near standstill.

While several Fed Members claimed the economy might continue to grow moderately, that assessment was significantly weakened last week when the Fed lowered its growth forecast due to the weak labor market and slow consumer spending. The Fed also stated that it does not expect the unemployment rate to fall any further this year, so the fact that unemployment remains significantly high has put the economy squarely at the center of this presidential election, a fact that will unlikely change between now and November when voters cast their ballots for two radically different economic perspectives.

Despite criticism that President Obama’s economic policies are doing little to help, and may be harming economic growth, the Romney alternative of returning America to the economic policies that initiated a decade of corporate greed, followed by the Great Recession, seems less viable than sticking to the course Obama has laid out.

The President sharpened his differences with Romney this week on the campaign trail, claiming in no uncertain terms that voting for Romney would be putting the same people back into power that helped create the economic mess. That message will be hard to sell the closer we get to the election as voters’ inevitably vote with the vicissitudes of their pocketbooks rather than their reflective conscience.