In what passes for good news about the U.S. economy these days, the government on Wednesday is expected to revise upward the broad measure of growth known as gross domestic product. If forecasts hold up, the GDP report will show that the nation's economy expanded at a rate of 1.7 percent in the second quarter of 2012, up from a previous estimate of 1.5 percent.
Statisticians may celebrate the economy growing at a slightly-less-mediocre pace. On Main Street, though, everyone knows that prosperity is running way behind what's normally expected in any recovery worthy of the name.
This is, by many measures, the feeblest economic recovery since the Great Depression. Most economists expect the malaise to continue into 2013. Remember, we're talking about a disturbingly poky recovery from a recession that ended in ... June 2009. Yes, 38 months ago.
To some extent, the sluggish results reflect the lingering effects of that downturn. Consumers got hammered through layoffs and a housing bust. The financial system froze, and businesses stopped investing, even after their profits recovered. Government ordered banks to recapitalize and poured on monetary and fiscal stimulus. That was a predictable response, and we generally supported it.
What's maddening is the self-inflicted damage caused by subsequent inaction in Washington once the crisis subsided. Gridlock on Capitol Hill has created unnecessary uncertainty for employers, for households, for everyone: It has increased risks for businesses that don't know what the tax and investment rules will be. It has discouraged spending by consumers who worry that the continued high unemployment rate could, in any given week, bite them, too. And while it is difficult to measure these impacts with precision, the cumulative consequences for confidence among job creators, investors and consumers have been huge. Week after week, fresh economic numbers attest to the torpor.