Last week, I noted that various forms of the word "unexpected" almost inevitably appeared in news stories about unfavorable economic developments.
You can find them again in stories about Friday's shocking news, that only 54,000 net new jobs were created in the month of May and that unemployment rose to 9.1 percent.
But with news that bad, maybe bad economic numbers will no longer be "unexpected." You can only expect a robust economic recovery for so long before you figure out, as Herbert Hoover eventually did, that it is not around the corner.
Exogenous factors explain some part of the current economic stagnation. The earthquake and tsunami in Japan caused a slowdown in manufacturing. Horrendous tornados did not help. Nor did bad weather, though only a few still bitterly cling to the theory that it's caused by manmade global warming.
But poor public policy is surely one reason why the American economy has not rebounded from recession as it has in the past. And political posturing has also played a major role.
Barack Obama and the Democratic congressional supermajorities of 2009-10 raised federal spending from 21 percent to 25 percent of gross domestic product. Their stimulus package stopped layoffs of public employees for a while, even as private sector payrolls plummeted.
And the Obama Democrats piled further burdens on would-be employers in the private sector. Obamacare and the Dodd-Frank financial regulation bill are scheduled to be followed by thousands of regulations that will impose impossible-to-estimate costs on the economy.
That seems to have led to a hiring freeze. The Obama Democrats can reasonably claim not to be responsible for the huge number of layoffs that occurred in the months following the financial crisis of fall 2008. And Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke did manage to help stabilize financial markets.
But while the number of layoffs is now vastly less than in the first half of 2009, the number of new hires has not increased appreciably. Many more people have been unemployed for longer periods than in previous recessions, and many more have stopped looking for work altogether.
It's hard to avoid the conclusion that the threat of tax increases and increased regulatory burdens have produced something in the nature of a hiring strike.
And then there is the political posturing. On April 13, Barack Obama delivered a ballyhooed speech at George Washington University. The man who conservatives as well as liberal pundits told us was a combination of Edmund Burke and Reinhold Niebuhr was widely expected to present a serious plan to address the budget deficits and entitlement spending.