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Editorial: Economic fears rising

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | OCTOBER 08, 2013 5:00 AM

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The economic recovery has been long and slow for most people. Official unemployment numbers are slowly inching their way down, though partly because some are giving up on trying to find work. A huge fraction of the economic gains made since the recession ended has also gone to the highest earners. Across the country, it seems pretty clear that Americans are disenchanted with the American economy.

Given national attitudes and circumstances, it’s perhaps little surprise that the results of the Des Moines Register’s Iowa Poll found that nine in 10 Iowans think the U.S. financial system is at risk of falling into another economic crisis. Note that this poll was taken before the federal-government shutdown.

Iowans, Americans, really everyone, are right to be concerned with the U.S. economy’s stability. The factors that contributed to the last recession have not been fully mitigated, and new threats have emerged since.

Although the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (more commonly known as Dodd-Frank) created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and established other regulatory measures in an effort to prevent future financial crises, the act is riddled with problems.

Michael Simkovic, an associate professor at the Seton Hall Law School, wrote a paper that contended even with Dodd-Frank enacted, banks can still give out high-risk loans, shareholders and bank employees still benefit from giving out risky mortgages, and regulators remain particularly underfunded.

“The effectiveness of the [Consumer Financial Protection Bureau] will also likely be hampered by continued efforts to defund it and reduce its ability to operate independent of politics,” Simkovic wrote. “Given the political influence of the financial-services industry, it seems unlikely that the [bureau] could effectively regulate underwriting if it were subject to annual appropriations by Congress.”

Perhaps equally stunning as the poor response to patch up the problems that caused the Great Recession was the lackluster legal response to the financiers who were largely responsible for driving the national economy into the ground.

A few minor members of the banking community were arrested and convicted for wrongdoing, but none of the top executives on Wall Street have been legally penalized for their irresponsible and destructive actions so far.

Adding to a lackluster governmental reaction to the economic disaster from 2007 to 2009 is the lopsided economic recovery.

The Register’s Iowa Poll also found that about three-fourths of Iowans say they haven’t fully recovered from the recession. Twenty-eight percent of all respondents said it still feels like a recession and that they’re “still hurting.”

Part of why the recovery is so widely seen as anemic is because the top income earners have captured virtually all of the gains. In September, we drew attention to a paper by an economist at the University of California-Berkeley showing that 95 percent of all income gains from 2009 through 2012 went to the top 1 percent of the income distribution.

Again, the Iowa Poll was conducted before the government shutdown, which began Oct. 1, and that highlights the biggest problem of all: Americans are losing faith in their government.

A recent CBS poll shows that since 2010, a rapidly growing percentage of Americans are “angry” with their government. In December 2012, 21 percent of responders put themselves this classification; as of Oct. 3, 43 percent felt this way.

Gallup notes that the percentage of Americans naming the government as a top problem hasn’t been this high since the 1970s.

Public opinion has looked increasingly unfavorable toward the federal government in recent years, and that loss of confidence in the state and economy threaten to act as a self-fulfilling prophecy, weakening the economy out of fear that the economy will weaken.


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