Both Paul Krugman in today's New York Times and Clive Crook in this morning's Financial Times note the eerie silence coming out of the presidential campaigns on the current American economic crisis.
Krugman makes a compelling case that a President McCain would exacerbate the growing problems on Wall Street, surrounded as he is by economic snake-oil salesmen.
But, Crook really gives it to the Democratic candidates who continue to campaign on trade, when Americans are being hit not by NAFTA, but by an unregulated financial sector.
The separation of presidential politics from the troubles assailing the US economy is now verging on the surreal. With banks collapsing, the dollar reeling, the Federal Reserve making up new rules as it goes and observers discussing a new Great Depression, the presidential candidates are still on scripts they wrote a year ago. The main problem is either the North American Free Trade Agreement (Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton) or high taxes and excessive regulation (John McCain). If delivery from this ordeal depended on any of the contenders saying something intelligent about it, prudence would require that the entire country be written down to a nominal sum.
What makes this even odder is that the Democrats, at least, continue to hammer away at economic anxiety. The squeeze on "middle-class families" gives them an edge against the Republicans in November, they calculate. But they were saying this last year, and the year before - when unemployment was not rising, the economy looked pretty healthy and most Americans still did not know the difference between an SIV and a CDO. The themes are trade and jobs, shuttered factories, stagnant incomes, unlevel playing fields and labour and environmental standards. As for the complete breakdown of the credit system and the danger of a years-long Japanese-style slump - oh, yes, there's that as well.
Part of this is surely due to the fact that noone's got anything intelligent to say on the matter, Democrat or Republican. After all, with an interest rate just above 2% and the Fed bailing out unregulated investment banks, clearly nobody has a good idea about what's going on or what to do about it.
It also speaks volumes to the stranglehold finance has on American politics. No presidential candidate can call for the type of banking regulation that seems necessary in the current financial climate (and, I might add, seemed obviously necessary to many of us in the lead up the crisis).
One need only look to the right of Clive Crook's column today to find a ready rejoinder to the argument for updating banking regulation. And one cannot blame Ms. Robinson of that eminent publication, The Banker for defending the rights of her patrons to unregulated financial industry, backed by the safety net of taxpayer bail outs. But for the rest of us, the case is clear.
No presidential campaign will touch the current economic crisis. It's toxic, and there are no obvious solutions. But that silence speaks more about the root of our economic distress than anything else.