During the months when the Congress and the press kept everyone on the edge of their seats wondering about the dreaded fiscal cliff, business behavior went on as normal -- and a mediocre normal at that. The lousy rate of job creation hardly changed. Detroit enjoyed a good fourth quarter as very low-interest rates stimulated auto sales. Christmas sales were about what was predicted, as consumers turned to their credit cards. To the extent that the economy has remained stuck in first gear, it has everything to do with high unemployment and lagging wages, and just about nothing to do with the fiscal cliff or worries about the debt ratio 20 years down the road.
This week we narrowly avoided the fiscal cliff. But while the president might have won that battle, the most important war -- the war against joblessness -- continues to drag on while pushed to the sidelines of our national conversation. Friday brought yet another middling jobs report, with the economy adding only 155,000 jobs. Yet when the president was asked on Meet the Press what his priorities were for his second term, after leading with immigration, he talked about "stabilizing the economy" mostly in terms of deficit reduction and "fiscal stability," and then "the huge opportunity around energy." So what happened to the "pivot" to jobs that we heard so much about during the campaign? Apparently that did fall off the cliff. At the current rate, unemployment won't be back to where it was before the recession for at least another seven years. It's a sign of how far off the rails we've gone that this is now seen as good news.