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'It's Not the Economy, Stupid'

Democrats and Republicans in Congress are vying to fix something that doesn't need fixing: the economy.

In fact, many of the proposed cures, such as penalizing US companies that invest overseas or curbing foreign competition, could wind up wilting a blossoming economy.

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But incumbents who face competition next year are fixated on past job losses and drops in stock wealth during a recession that ended last year. They want to look as if they've done something, even though politicians have very little impact on economic cycles.

Hold the cures, please. Economic indicators are up, and fears of a "jobless recovery" are fading. Many Democratic presidential candidates are changing tack to emphasize Iraq and security issues over the economy.

In fact, Yale economist Ray Fair, who's pretty good at predicting the effects of the economy on elections, sees a victory for President Bush if the economy keeps rolling along at above 2.4 percent growth, as is widely forecast. The jobless rate doesn't carry much weight in elections anymore, and the current one (6.1 percent) is lower than at the end of the past two recessions. (The deficit, too, as a percent of GDP, is comparatively lower.)

These days, Americans worry more about house prices and stocks. And they're more financially literate, knowing the limits of government in quickly shifting a huge economy.

Still, many manufacturing jobs - the bulk of jobs lost - may never return, lost to overseas competition. The best response is already coming from businesses creating jobs in new technologies, along with a retooling of laid-off factory workers.

Government shouldn't be indifferent to the unemployed. But it should know when its fixes are late or wrong.