Dana Milbank – Economist Christina Romer serves up dismal news at her farewell luncheon

September 3, 2010

Christina Romer, chairman of President Obama‘s Council of Economic Advisers, was giving what was billed as her “valedictory” before she returns to teach at Berkeley, and she used the swan song to establish four points, each more unnerving than the last:

She had no idea how bad the economic collapse would be. She still doesn’t understand exactly why it was so bad. The response to the collapse was inadequate. And she doesn’t have much of an idea about how to fix things.

What she did have was a binder full of scary descriptions and warnings, offered with a perma-smile and singsong delivery: “Terrible recession. . . . Incredibly searing. . . . Dramatically below trend. . . . Suffering terribly. . . . Risk of making high unemployment permanent. . . . Economic nightmare.”

Anybody want dessert?

At week’s end, Romer will leave the council chairmanship after what surely has been the most dismal tenure anybody in that post has had: a loss of nearly 4 million jobs in a year and a half. That’s not Romer’s fault; the financial collapse occurred before she, and Obama, took office. But she was the president’s top economist during a time when the administration consistently underestimated the depth of the economy’s troubles – miscalculations that have caused Americans to lose faith in the president and the Democrats.

Romer had predicted that Obama’s stimulus package would keep the unemployment rate at 8 percent or less; it is now 9.5 percent. One of her bosses, Vice President Biden, told Democrats in January that “you’re going to see, come the spring, net increase in jobs every month.” The economy lost 350,000 jobs in June and July.

This is why nearly two-thirds of Americans think the country is on the wrong track – and why Obama’s efforts to highlight the end of U.S. combat in Iraq and the resumption of Middle East peace talks have little chance of piercing the gloom as voters consider handing control of Congress back to the Republicans.

While most small businesses i talk to like restaurants, art stores, clothing, are on the edge of letting go yet another employee, economists kept saying “recovery”. Don’t they talk to people?

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