THE BLOG
03/29/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Obama's SOTU Problem: An Ounce of Prevention is Worth, Well, Next to Nothing

Prevention, according to the old adage, is supposed to outvalue cure by a ratio of 16-to-1. Recent history would suggest the opposite relative weighting, and probably one far more unbalanced.

The immediate case in point is, of course, the current disillusionment with Obama's economic policies. And no question that unemployment - always a lagging indicator, by the way -- is still distressingly high. But few, apart from the strictly business watchers, seem to have noticed that several economic indicators are looking downright perky.

Only this week, the International Monetary Fund reported that the world economy is making a much faster comeback than experts had predicted. Closer to home, the Federal Open Market Committee noted in its Wednesday release, that while the recovery's pace will likely be moderate at best, information obtained since its December meeting

"suggests that economic activity has continued to strengthen and that the deterioration in the labor market is abating. Household spending is expanding at a moderate rate .... Business spending on equipment and software appears to be picking up.... Firms have brought inventory stocks into better alignment with sales. While bank lending continues to contract, financial market conditions remain supportive of economic growth."

Still more relevant, a new PricewaterhouseCoopers survey finds that chief executives say that they now feel confident that the world has averted what might have been a prolonged recession.
And there's the rub of it. No politician, or for that matter, no government agency or even corporation gets many brownie points for averting a disaster. Case in point: A Time magazine article this week reports that health officials in rich, developed countries are complaining that warnings about an H1N1 flu pandemic led them to overstock on flu vaccine. No discussion in the article about whether such warnings -- and the subsequent vaccination programs launched -- might have averted a full pandemic by limiting exposure.

Or take Y2K. Recall, if you can, the widespread recriminations in the media when the turn of the world's time-counting mechanism from 1999 to 2000 failed to produce the global crashing of computer networks and other electronically controlled devices that had been the subject of much handwringing in the preceding decade. No congratulations to those alerted by the prospective problem who had instituted the updates needed to avert disaster.

Then there were all those terrorist attacks that didn't happen, whether by luck or by timely intervention.... It's enough to make a president think he'd have a more appreciative public -- at least in the short run -- if he just went on vacation, ignored any timely warnings and let the worst happen.