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The state of the union
A strikingly unaudacious speech from Barack Obama failed to address America’s problems
 The union's troubled state
Jan 27th 2011



IN A show of civility prompted by the dreadful shootings in Tucson, Republicans and Democrats sat side by side to hear Barack Obama’s state-of-the-union message. But that truce could not hide the fact that the two sides have starkly different analyses of what has gone wrong in America. And in so far as either side has solutions to offer (which is sadly not very far), these are starkly different, too. Everyone pretends to be in favour of bipartisan dialogue, but it is a dialogue of the deaf.
America faces two huge, linked problems. Its unemployment rate is running at 9.4%; once you add in those who want full-time work but can find only part-time jobs, it is almost twice that. Job creation is not even keeping pace with the rise in population. And the budget deficit is running at almost 10% of GDP; on that measure this year and the previous two will have been the three worst since the second world war.

To the Republicans who now control the House of Representatives, the main problem is the deficit and the cumulative burden of debt it brings with it. The deficit will of course narrow as the economy recovers, but because of the insatiable demands for health care of America’s now-creaky and retiring baby-boomers, unless taxes are hiked it will not dip below 4% of GDP, and it will start to rise again after 2015. That is not sustainable. Not only will borrowing on this scale tend to crowd out more productive investment: the interest on it is already eating up 10% of government revenue, a figure that will rise as interest rates go up. Hence the Republican demand for swift and deep cuts.