After so many false starts, it appears that the recovery has at last truly arrived. All the basic numbers look good.

November's jobless rate fell by an astonishing four tenths of one percent, from 6.8 percent to 6.4 percent, the sharpest drop in 10 years.Third-quarter growth was 2.8 percent, up from 1.9 percent in the second, and 0.8 percent in the first. The prediction for the fourth quarter is a 4.5 percent increase, or more.

So the recession and its aftermath - painfully slow growth - appear to be over, at least for the majority. But there has always been a minority that barely shares in growth.

The surprise about this recovery is that this minority is larger than ever and may grow larger still.

A large number of the newly unemployed are not from the lowest rung, but from the middle class. They have been catapulted into idleness, or at least severe downward mobility, by an economy that hasn't enough profit-making work for everyone to do, even in good times.

Nor is the problem confined to the United States. Japan, which experienced a similar binge in the 1980s, is currently in the midst of its worst hangover in a generation.

In Western Europe the problem is still worse. There, except for Britain, virtually all the Common Market economies are virtually under water.

Europe is not only failing to create enough jobs; those it has are too expensive.

Hence, capitalism's customary performance since World War II - binge, hangover and recovery - isn't being repeated this time, and may not be.

Instead, fundamental problems in all of the world's major industrial economies are condemning many to long-term recession.

This is new. Since the Great Depression, when capitalism learned how to prevent a hangover from turning into paralysis by spending public money, depressions have been replaced by recessions.

Rarely have more people been left behind after a recession than before it. Not anymore. What's worse, the remedy isn't necessarily the familiar one: Spending more public money.

Indeed, many would say that public spending is retarding the rapid creation of new industries and the jobs that will accommodate those turned out by their previous employers.

Yet if retraining is required, public money is needed. And the number needing help with the basic means of support is growing, which means more spending.

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What is the answer? No honest man has a clue.

But one thing is clear: Our understanding of capitalism - boom and bust with a little help from government to smooth the transitions - is no longer adequate.

Capitalism's tendency to produce general prosperity is no longer automatic.

Resultant suffering promises to be too great to wait for the development of new industries in which to work. After all, as the New Deal's Harry Hopkins once said, "People don't eat in the long run. They eat every day."

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