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Editorial comment

Values have shrunken to fantastic levels; taxes have risen; our ability to pay has fallen; government of all kinds is faced by serious curtailment of income; the withered leaves of industrial enterprise lie on every side; farmers find no markets for are gone.


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Values have shrunken to fantastic levels; taxes have risen; our ability to pay has fallen; government of all kinds is faced by serious curtailment of income; the withered leaves of industrial enterprise lie on every side; farmers find no markets for their produce; the savings of many in thousands of families are gone. More important, a host of unemployed citizens face the grim problem of existence, and an equally great number toil with little return. Only a foolish optimist can deny the dark realities of the moment.” Sound familiar? Well, these are not words from today, but spoken 76 years ago on 4 March 1933 by the then new President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt, during his First Inaugural Address. Roosevelt came to office during the Great Depression of 1929 – 1933 and immediately set to work rebuilding the country’s fortunes, which were at their lowest point in its history. He oversaw the US government’s Reconstruction Finance Corporation, which distributed some US$10 billion of funds to businesses, an initiative of President Hoover, Roosevelt’s predecessor, but which was taken up by Roosevelt together with many of his own initiatives.

In recent weeks, certainly since the collapse last autumn of several international banking systems, many comparisons have been made between the Great Depression and the current credit crisis. US President-elect Barack Obama presents his Inaugural Address on the steps of the Capitol in Washington on 20 January. As he takes office, he will begin to deal with the challenges thrown up by his country’s worst economic crisis for decades, while on the international front, he will need to set about restoring America’s global image and improving relations with the rest of the world.

There is, of course, the usual danger associated with high expectations and the possibility of non-fulfilment of pre-election promises, but the balance of power in Washington will be favourable to the new President. Democrats will be in both Houses of Congress with a large majority in the Senate, even though this chamber can often frustrate presidents of whichever persuasion. At the end of 2008, reports in the US press commented that Obama will pledge some US$675 - 775 billion in spending to revive the country’s economy, create 3 million new jobs and strengthen roads, bridges and other key systems in what is being regarded as the most ambitious building programme since the 1950s. Analysts warn that the passage of a spending bill could take until April, which could push the impact of new spending well into this year. An analyst at FBR Capital Markets predicts that there are US$64 billion worth of ‘ready to go’ heavy construction projects that could begin about six months after receiving funding. All this should be good news for the US cement industry, long term, but for the present, producers are continuing to shut down kilns, effect layoffs and generally slim down operations.

The excitement surrounding the arrival of the new, young President at the White House inevitably will exceed that which greeted another new, young Democrat in 1961, President John F. Kennedy. In his Inaugural Address he included that famous line, “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” Words from the past for today?