In his second annual message to Congress, in December 1862, Abraham Lincoln wrote: “The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.”
Barack Obama has been fond of quoting Lincoln. But his proposals for the US economy have so far not been thought anew. OK, some of them are new: spending more on infrastructure, education, renewable energy technology etc. And he’s going to see what he can cut from the budget. But the main thrust of his proposals, in co-operation with George Bush, are old: the economy is heading into recession, so the government borrows a load of money and pumps it into the economy in the hope of stimulating it. The UK government is doing exactly the same. As George Osborne, the Shadow Chancellor said, it is like trying to gamble your way out of debt.
As astrologers, we have a privileged insight into the zeitgeist and where it is heading. And the professional economists with their advanced theories have proved themselves to be spectacularly incompetent. So us astrologers who have a basic idea of balancing books have something to say.
Because that is what I think economics come down to: balancing the books. Margaret Thatcher understood this, at least in her early days as Prime Minister. If you have been living beyond your means, then you have to tighten your belt for a while, unless you can find some new means of income. Financial engineering can only delay this reckoning.
In a very Pluto in Sag fashion, the US and Britain have been living way beyond their means for years, fuelled by cheap money from the Middle East, China and India. With Pluto entering Capricorn, it is time to hang our heads for a while and pay our debts. Then we will eventually end up on solid ground again. With Uranus moving in to square Pluto, the game is soon to change radically. The old methods will not work, if they ever did.
But no, in their hubris the US and UK governments are trying to borrow their way out of the problem. Admittedly this can work when it is a matter of fine-tuning. Or if you can see the economy growing significantly as a result, and you can use the increased tax revenues to repay your borrowing.
But America is up against the wall. The competition from other countries, particularly China, is intense and growing. The US automobile industry is on its last legs, not because of cheap labour costs in China, but because the Japanese are better at it. And Obama wants to throw tens of billions of dollars of borrowed money at the car makers. And cut taxes to get people spending more.
Britain is even more up against the wall. We are in some ways a post-industrial nation, unlike say Germany, the world's biggest exporter of manufactured goods. A lot of our wealth has come from financial services in recent decades, and that entire sector is changing and, for now, shrinking. Yet Messrs Brown and Darling are chucking tens of billions of borrowed pounds - at what? At a past that isn't going to come back.
I don’t know what the answer is, but Pluto entering Capricorn tells me it is not this. In its prolonged affluence, America has become decadent: that is the only reason the car makers are in trouble, for there is no reason that America could not make cars as well and as cheaply as the Japanese. This decadence is also the reason the infrastructure has been neglected, and why there has been such excessive borrowing. But the Americans are spectacularly resourceful when called upon, and this gives me hope.
Long-term solutions are needed. The US economy is not about to roar ahead again, which is the only way you could justify the huge amounts the US government is starting to borrow. It will just make the deep-seated problems that much harder to overcome, for there will be even more debt to pay back.
The Bush-Obama solution has panic written into it. Obama’s self-assurance was wobbling at his recent press conference on the economy, and he was pushing his hand at the audience, as if to ward off criticism.
As a politician, there is the big ‘R’ word – recession – which you must avoid at all costs if you want to keep your job. But recessions are sometimes necessary, they are like reflective ‘down-time’ after the heady days of a booming economy. America needs a recession. The UK needs a recession.
Margaret Thatcher was probably the only politician ever who had the guts to deliberately put her country through a recession. Yes, she was hard, she was doctrinaire, she was patronising, she caused unnecessary - as well as necessary - suffering, and eventually she lost her political judgement. But Britain was no longer the ‘sick man of Europe’ by the time she had finished. Admittedly, a short and victorious war in the middle of the hard times (against Argentina) helped her through.
I think that Barack Obama to some extent understands the need for deep changes in the US economy, and his proposed spending on infrastructure and alternative technologies reflects this. But with Pluto entering Capricorn, the new economy will not be so consumer driven and credit driven – people have been burnt by this. It will be based more on personal financial security and on meeting actual, as opposed to invented, needs. It will be about inefficient businesses having to change or die due to foreign competition. It will be about recognising that resources are no longer unlimited, and that unlimited growth is no longer a sane model. Throwing borrowed money at the economy, ‘stimulating’ it, trying to get people to spend more and more, will soon become an old and discredited way of thinking. A recession is necessary to begin to make these changes.
I think Obama will be a good leader in a time of recession. But he is clearly still caught up to a large extent in the old Sagittarian way of thinking. I think that circumstances will force him to change as the recession bites, and I think that he has the capacity to adapt and to think more radically. What he needs to avoid is to be seen as having caused the recession. Just like he will need to avoid being seen as the President who ‘lost’ the Iraq War (President Ford was seen, entirely unfairly, as the man who lost the Vietnam War.)
So it is a very tricky path he has to tread. I don’t think he yet understands how much the game is changing. The sticking-plaster solution that himself and Bush are proposing is just that, and Obama will find himself propelled into the need for very different solutions as Pluto in Capricorn bites, and particularly as Uranus also makes itself felt.
Obama himself has MC at 28.53 Scorpio. Neptune will be moving towards an exact square of this point over the next 2½ years. Even now Neptune is heading towards next May’s separation of just 2½ degrees. So this is going to be a constant theme of the first term of his Presidency. It is a challenging transit. It is about how the public sees him (MC), and will involve elements of both inspiration and illusion (Neptune); and it is also about his personal sense of vocation and career direction (MC) – again there are elements of both inspiration and illusion, and also a gradual unfoldment of the impulse which brought him to the Presidency in the first place.
Being a challenging transit, Obama is likely to have to struggle with the public’s perception of him. Some people may indeed start to see him as the man who made the recession much worse than it need have been, and who lost the Iraq War. A recession and a lost war are about the 2 worst things you can have as a leader in terms of popularity. Obama could easily go through a huge dip in popularity, particularly in 2010/11, as the honeymoon fades and the recession deepens. This is likely even if he is doing a brilliant job at guiding the economy through a difficult transition. The US has Sag Rising – it wants instant results – and Sun square Saturn – they are not patient or realistic with their leaders. But in early 2012, as the election approaches, Neptune will complete his final square to Obama’s MC and the journey will start to conclude.
The US Moon (the people) is at 27 Aquarius, which will have a conjoining transit from Neptune. So there is this whole Neptunian journey that America will be going through with Obama over the next 4 years. Part of it may be a realisation by some that he is not a Redeemer after all, but despite that an effective President.
Having Sun square Neptune natally, Obama has an instinctive understanding of this planet. He knows the effect he can have on people. Anyone who attracts the sort of belief and hope that he does is also likely to attract its opposite. People are likely to be intensely polarised in their attitude to him: but in America, that is politics as usual!