Outlook 1976: Temporary Economic Prosperity

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Even if pump priming does buy a year of economic prosperity in 1976, don't expect it to last.

This is a major election year, and the U.S. Bicentennial at that. Ain’t no way that the incumbent politicians (Republican and Democratic), who control some very large purse strings in this country, are gonna let this be a bad year economically. That is, if they have anything to say about it.

Look for economic prosperity through economic manipulation. The Good Times will roll in every way that political actions can make them roll during the next few months. Most national politicians will strike fearless poses for fiscal responsibility when in front of the TV cameras while battling furiously behind the scenes for the release (preferably to selected constituents of their own) of every possible slush fund in Washington. Hundreds of thousands of people will volunteer or be conned into laboring day and night for campaign organizations … which, if nothing else, will keep such individuals from competing for “real” work and–in theory, at least–even relieve the nation’s unemployment figures by a fraction of a percent. Revenues for airlines, bus lines, automobile rental agencies, small film companies, printers, and a hundred other mini-industries will be up as politicians, campaigners of all persuasions, speech writers, secretaries, party faithfuls, and flunkies increasingly crisscross the country seeing and being seen, attending caucuses, making deals, spying on the opposition, and passing out banners, buttons, stickers, posters, and funny hats.

Add to that activity the record number of tourists expected to flock to every historic landmark in the United States this year (in some cases because they can no longer afford a foreign vacation). And then tack on the very real (even if very weak) rebound that the automotive and a few other major industries are now making. Then figure in the boost our economy has already gotten from the billions that have been pumped into “saving” New York City, extending and extending once again unemployment benefits for several million people, and otherwise bailing us out of the 1974-75 financial doldrums. Factor in the current artificially depressed prime interest rate (which will hype borrowing and business expansion) and the razzle-dazzle buoyance that’s been (again, somewhat artificially) injected into the stock market. And lard on all the other little tricks that the “important” economists and politicians can pull out of the hat during the next few months.

And you get boom times, right?

Well … no.

Even administration forecasters (who, obviously, have a vested interest in Making Everything All Right Again) are predicting a real growth in the economy during 1976 of only 6.2%, a decline of inflation from last year’s 8.7% to (what we would have considered just a few years ago a still-intolerable) 5.9%, and a barely perceptible inching down of unemployment from 1975’s 8.5% to 7.7%.

And that’s the good forecast. A great many other economists are far less optimistic. Most at least question the “official” definition of unemployment and inflation. Several point out the sobering percentage of the nation’s largest banks that are, to put it politely, “having difficulty” collecting multi-million and billion-dollar loans made during the go-go late 60’s and early 70’s. Some adamantly refuse to believe that New York City has been “saved” at all and, in fact, still look for the municipality to be legally declared bankrupt … closely followed by New York State and several other towns, cities, and states. A few–and not just the silver and gold “freaks”–are even predicting catastrophic inflation on the one hand and more catastrophic deflation on the other, all within the next 12 to 36 months.

So you pays your money and you takes your choice. Personally, MOTHER EARTH NEWS’ chief helpers still feel, as an investor once observed, that “the stock market fluctuates.” Furthermore, our whole economy fluctuates, has always fluctuated, and is going to fluctuate a great deal and a whole lot more wildly in the future. That’s all we need to know and all the reason we want to justify a strong craving for serene isolation from the economic bumps which lie ahead.

It’s awfully hard, you know, for the threat of natural gas and furnace oil shortages to worry you when your house is solar heated. Supermarket prices are a power less upsetting when the root cellar is full of vegetables, the smokehouse is heavy with hams and shoulders, you have too much homegrown milk and too many home-produced eggs to use, and the youngsters are sprouting more fresh alfalfa and mung beans every day than the whole family can eat. Unemployment figures seem very distant when you’ve organized your life so you don’t need much cash in the first place, and your own little home business brings in what you do need, in the second.

(And don’t tell me that only back-to-the-landers can do these things. Any suburban–and most apartment-dwelling–families can grow sprouts in a closet and set up a full- or part-time business of their own. A surprising number of city and town residents can even raise vacant-lot vegetables, rooftop gardens, backyard rabbits and chickens, and basement fish, as amply illustrated by at least a half dozen pilot projects around the country.)

The “smart” guys, in other words, can make all the fun they want to of us “backward, ignorant” people who talk about and practice some level of self-sufficiency. We know that we’re the ones who’re having the real satisfaction and fun. And we’ll see who’s still laughing ten years from now. Or, maybe, even as early as December 31, 1976!