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American pessimism

Mark Mardell | 17:59 UK time, Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Sad_America.jpgOne of the defining qualities of Americans must be their optimism.

To Europeans, it can sometimes appear to be an overly cheerful enthusiasm or a wilful reluctance to look harsh facts in the face.

Obama's election was one expression of that optimism - the audacity of hope - embodied in Bob the Builder's constructive phrase "yes, we can".

But gloom appears to be the new mood in the US these days.

Commentators on the left like Robert Reich warn of a double dip recession.

So do commentators of the right.

Those giving investment advice say they see the signs everywhere.

While cooler commentators keep their heads, there's no doubt whatsoever the jitters are out there.

In the country, rather than in print and on the internet, this may not be down to predictions but because of what is happening now - or isn't happening.

A recent survey suggests eight out of ten of those who lost their jobs in the last couple of years still haven't found a new one.

President Obama is sticking to his guns, unwavering in his big picture policy prescription.

He wants to refocus America, to once again become one of the world's great manufacturers and exporters - rather than just being one of the globe's biggest consumers.

This vision is how Mr Obama sees jobs coming back.

In a speech today he said, "This is where American jobs will be tomorrow. Ninety-five percent of the world's customers and fastest growing markets are beyond our borders. So if we want to find new growth streams, we've got to better compete for those customers - because other nations are. As I have said many times, the United States of America should not, cannot, and will not play for second place. We mean to compete for those jobs - and we mean to win."

While this may be excellent analysis of the problem, the difficulty is the policy prescriptions - such as more free trade and a rebalancing of the Chinese currency - hardly go to the heart of the matter. The heart of the matter being that America doesn't make enough of the goods the world wants to buy.

In a thought provoking article in Times, Anatole Kaletsky argues forcefully that Obama's prescription is right.

But he sees one big threat - pessimism itself.

He contends this is largely caused by intense political polarisation, adding that he hasn't seen such intense mutual hatred since Scargill and Thatcher faced each other in 1980s Britain.

Is it time to abandon bipolar bipartisanship and for Americans to pick themselves up and dust themselves down?

I look forward to your answers and will read them at my leisure: I am taking some leave, so I won't be posting for a while.

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