I spent the last couple of days in the USA,(not at the public expense) to see how the recession is affecting them, and to see if there is any tangible sign of recovery. I visited the Chicago area, to see if the rust belt is still rusting, and to feel the pulse of the heartlands of automotive country.
There were plenty of cars for sale, signs of job losses and short time working, and downward pressure on house prices. In other ways what was remarkable was how normal, how American everything was. The restaurants were busy and noisy. Huge helpings were sold for modest prices. The roads were busy. The freeways and turnpikes still are well worn by the procession of enormous trucks. Pick ups and large SGVs are still popular.
The great strength and enormous resource of the world’s superpower was still much in evidence. Land is used profligately. There is plenty of waste. Diets and energy use have not suddenly conformed to Mr Obama’s planet watch. Green remains a colour for the political and chattering classes, rather than a way of life for middle America.
Whilst there was some talk of hard times and job losses, some concern about recession, there was a general feeling that what goes down must go up again. There was no great dread of the extent of federal borrowing, no alarm about the size of the twin deficits, no expectation that anything serious would dent the great society. China may be the nation’s bank manager, but the people have yet to feel her wrath on their overdrafts. The US living standards may rest more than ever on the goodwill of the international community, and depend on the attitude of surplus governments and world savers, but there is no sense that people expect crisis any time soon. America will go on doing what it does well – going to the shopping mall and restaurant by car, parking right outside, and enjoying the rest.
This great continent of a country still sees itself as a world apart. Its economy, even in recession, even debt ridden as it is, shows vitality and breadth that is impressive. Meanwhile the dollar tumbles, the Chinese flex their muscles with the Treasury Secretary, and markets fret about the amount the USA still wants to borrow. The US does not fancy cutting it appetite for spending. It just assumes it can go on borrowing. Someday there has to be path out of public debt, but in the meantime the authorities want to create the impression that it is business as usual. Greenery is still greenwash, not a daily reality.