Last week, the economy was booming. Employment was way up, as was the stock market, inflation was down, productivity had ascended dizzying heights and consumer confidence was hunky-dory. Things were just the way Americans like them: the rich were getting richer and the poor . . . were getting poorer more slowly.
But not to worry; we have a man whose job it is to fix all that. His name is Alan Greenspan, and he is the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board. He is there to prevent the outbreak of excessive prosperity, and he is good at what he does.
He was at it again last week. In a speech on "the new economy" at a Boston College conference, he again promised to keep raising interest rates until the galloping economy lies down, rolls over and plays dead. He didn't use those exact words, but that was the sense of it. The stock market immediately tanked.
Greenspan is under the impression that part of the reason people are out there buying, buying, buying is that they are making so much money in the stock market that they feel rich. He further believes that it is his duty to disabuse them of that delusion - by making them poorer.
I must confess that I've never understood that kind of thinking. It seems to me that if you make a lot of money in the stock market, you are rich, just as rich as if you'd made the money honestly. And if you want to spend it, why not?
Now, if he wanted to raise interest rates in order to curb inflation, that"s different. Everybody is against inflation. And while it has not been much in evidence lately, there are signs emerging that give one pause.
Chief among them is the spike in oil prices, the result of the decision of Bandits Inc. (sometimes known as OPEC) to cut back production. Crude-oil prices have just about doubled in the past year, sending gasoline prices up to $1.50 a gallon, heading toward $1.80 this summer. This is both good news and bad news.
It is good because it means that all of those SUV owners, who bash in your front grill with their hip-high bumpers in parking lots, will have to pay exorbitant sums to fill up their tanks to go anywhere. It serves them right.
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It is bad because high gas prices always - ALWAYS - drive up the prices of other goods and that means inflation, which means Mr. Greenspan will raise interest rates ever higher and the economy will crash and we"ll all be out of work and homeless.
Damn me for a liberal, but I'd rather get my economic crashes the old-fashioned way, by surprise, not see them produced artificially by a bureaucrat.
* * *
Gen. Augusto Pinochet, the former dictator of Chile, returned to his homeland last week. He had been under house arrest in England for the past 16 months while authorities in four European countries had sought his extradition in order to put him on trial for the crimes he (ha ha) allegedly committed while in office. (During his 17-year reign, more than 3,000 political enemies were said to have been killed or made to disappear.)
But British authorities finally ruled that he was too old and infirm to stand trial. He would be "unable to follow the process of a trial sufficiently to instruct counsel" and "would have difficulty in making himself understood in replying to questions," the British Home Secretary said in allowing the general to go home.
And, indeed, the pictures of Pinochet boarding the plane in England seemed to testify to the truth of that. He was in a wheelchair, he looked confused and old and sick.
Until he got to Chile, where he was greeted with a government-sponsored rally at the airport. He stepped off the plane looking like Gene Kelly in "Singing in the Rain." He refused a wheelchair and only used his cane to wave to the crowds as he smiled and greeted supporters. He did everything but drop down on one knee and sing "Mammy."
He could have at least waited until he got away from the airport before he showed us what suckers he'd made of us. At least that.
There'd better be justice in the next world because there's not much of it in this one.