Sorry, I lied. We’re going to start not with the truth, but instead with, well, the lies.
Funny, but the word in that tweet that jumps out at me is the only one in all-caps. That’s the word that, according to Chief of Staff John Kelly (quoted in Bob Woodward’s new book), gave its name to the place where the White House is located—Crazytown. But I digress.
As for the only concrete statement in that tweet, namely that the economy is “perhaps the best in our country’s history”, the Washington Post fact-checker gave it three Pinocchios out of four. The economy was, it pointed out, stronger under Bill Clinton, as well as other presidents in our country’s history from Lyndon Johnson to Ulysses S. Grant to Dwight Eisenhower.
For a properly capitalized version of these lies, here’s Chair of the White House Economic Council of Advisers, Kevin Hassett:
I can promise you that economic historians will 100 percent accept the fact that there was an inflection at the election of Donald Trump and that a whole bunch of data items started heading north.
It’s rare that the normally staid Associated Press publishes something that could qualify as a mic drop line, but I would say that their Fact Check, which directly addresses Hassett’s claim, does just that:
THE FACTS: If you look at a chart of monthly job gains or the economy’s growth rate, that inflection point is hard to spot.
The best line of the week goes to Jen Psaki, who was White House communications director under Obama: “A buffoon could have kept the recovery going, and in fact one has so far.”
In all seriousness, take a look (to the right) at charts for such basic, broad measures as the number of jobs, the unemployment rate, and average hourly wages. Additionally, real (i.e., adjusted for inflation) median household income increased by 1.8% in 2017, a significant slowdown in the rate of growth from 2016 (3.1%) and 2015 (5.1%).
As a number of different fact-checkers made clear, there has not been a significant improvement in the economy since Trump took office—and this despite a huge, pump-priming stimulus in the form of a tax cut aimed mostly at millionaires. That tax scheme has, however, made a significant impact on our federal balance sheet, by helping, according to current projections, to send the annual deficit north of $1 billion as soon as fiscal 2019—less than 13 months from now. That’s a level not seen since Obama’s first term, when we were still recovering from the worst economic crash since the Great Depression. That kind of deficit spending makes sense in the years after such a crash, but now it’s simply lunacy. Just this year, the deficit is up by around 25% from last year’s level. Hey look, we found an uptick Trump actually is responsible for.
Hassett cited some statistics of his own as showing a positive uptick under Trump, including something he called “blue-collar jobs” or, alternatively, “goods-producing jobs”. This includes sectors that account for only 14% of American jobs, however, and they are, interestingly enough, disproportionately located in red states.
Either way, the overall job and wage numbers show no uptick or inflection point. In Trump’s first 19 months, the economy added 3.58 million jobs. How about Obama’s last 19 months? Try 3.96 million. Someone who isn’t “flailing & lying like CRAZY” might call that a downtick. More broadly, each of Obama’s final three years saw the economy add more jobs than Trump’s first as president.
Hassett also bragged about an increase in corporations investing in things like equipment: “What’s happened is that the capital spending boom that we promised would happen if we passed the tax cuts is underway.” The reality is that wild swings in oil prices—which dropped from $111 a barrel in June 2014 to under $36 a barrel by February 2016, and has just about doubled since then—is the reason, not anything Trump did, as Atlanta Federal Reserve President Raphael Bostic explained: “Excluding energy and oil investment, investment growth is still below 5 percent on a year-over-year basis — a bit lower than the typical expansion average.” Slightly under half of all the growth in capital investment seen in the second quarter of 2018, for example, came from one sector. Can you guess which sector? If you said “oil and gas”, then congratulations, you win a one-way ticket out of Crazytown. Please take the rest of us with you.
Things in America are far from perfect. Economic inequality persists, unfortunately. Census data showed that in 2017, the most accurate measure of poverty found that the rate remained where it was in 2016—despite the continued growth in the economy. It is down from the recent peak reached in 2013, but only by 2.1%. It is vitally important to point out that President Obama’s policies worked to reduce economic inequality, while Trump’s are working to increase it.
Barack Obama is right. He inherited the worst economy in almost a century, and his policies turned that economy around. He almost certainly would have had an even bigger impact had conservatives who then pretended to care about deficits—only to abandon that concern once they took over the federal government—not worked directly against his efforts.
The truth matters, but if Democrats don’t win the public debate over the narrative of our recent economic history, our country may well be doomed to repeat the worst parts.
Ian Reifowitz is the author of Obama’s America: A Transformative Vision of Our National Identity (Potomac Books).