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Robinson: These are the good old days

  • Traders on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, which is trading at record levels. (RICHARD DREW / Associated Press)

The economy is growing much faster than expected. Inflation is basically nonexistent. The federal budget deficit has been slashed dramatically. The stock market is reaching all-time highs. One of our long-running wars is over, and the other is winding down. The status of the United States as the world's pre-eminent economic and military power is unchallenged.

So why is everyone so depressed?

The sour public attitude toward elected officials in general — and the Republican Party in particular — is understandable. Indeed, the wonder is that pollsters can find anyone beyond paid staffers who will express approval of Congress. And as for the White House, the rollout of the Affordable Care Act does not scream competence and efficiency.

But overall, whether by accident or design, things are actually going rather well. Years from now, when someday the nation is mired in another recession or bogged down in another ill-conceived war, these may be remembered as the good old days.

Last week's announcement that the U.S. economy grew at a 2.8 percent annual rate in the third quarter was stunning. It came with caveats, of course, because everything seems to come with caveats these days. Some doomsayers warned that it was the wrong kind of growth, for various arcane reasons. But even the gloomiest of analysts had to acknowledge that the figure — almost a full percentage point higher than predicted — showed the economic recovery is more robust than previously believed.

That news was followed by the October employment numbers, which were also promising: a total of 204,000 new jobs. This would have been enough to keep unemployment on its well-established downward trend — if not for the government shutdown, which furloughed enough federal workers to send the jobless rate up a notch to 7.3 percent. Let's have another round of applause for Congress.

In isolation, these numbers look pretty good. Compared to the rest of the world, they look really good. The United States doesn't have structurally high unemployment (like Europe), an addiction to overheated growth rates (like China) or mounting inflation (like major developing nations). Slow and steady may be boring, but it's better than many exciting alternatives.

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