Yesterday, I explained why Mitt Romney’s economic plan won’t fix the economy.Mitt Romney’s plan won’t fix the economy because the problem in the economy is not that rich people and companies don’t have enough cash to invest–they have plenty. The problem is that the middle-class doesn’t have any money to spend. And Mitt Romney’s plan is designed to direct more money to rich people, not the middle class.
Anyway, anytime you say anything about either of the candidates, the fans of that political team scream “bias!”
So, today, for the sake of balance, it’s Obama’s turn.
One of the single biggest factors in a President’s reelection chances is the direction of the unemployment rate and monthly jobs numbers in the six months leading up to the election. We’re way inside the six-month mark now. And, from Obama’s perspective, the jobs numbers are still headed the wrong way.
The Obama administration will continue to tell the same story that they have told from the beginning: The economy isn’t healthy enough, but it’s much healthier than it was under the Republicans, and Obama said from the beginning that it would be a long, slow slog.
And that, by the way, is the truth: It was always going to be long, slow slog. The country’s huge debt load, housing collapse, and financial crisis were always going to take years (if not decades) to work through, no matter what policymakers did.
But the trouble for Obama is that he didn’t manage the country’s expectations well enough, especially with respect to unemployment.
On the contrary: He overpromised and underdelivered.
Last fall, Ezra Klein of the Washington Post wrote an excellent treatise on how the American economy collapsed. Klein included what might be described as “the chart that might get President Obama fired.”
Mitt Romney has since jumped on this chart, including it in his huge How I’m Going To Fix The Economy Obama Ruined plan.
The chart, which we’ve updated below, shows three lines:
- The incoming Obama Administration’s projections for what the unemployment rate would be if no stimulus was enacted in the depths of the financial crisis (light blue).
- The Obama Administration’s projections for what the unemployment rate would be with the President’s stimulus plan (dark blue).
- The actual unemployment rate (it’s now 8.3%).
The actual unemployment rate in the chart, you will note, is much higher than the “nightmare scenario” initially envisioned by the Obama Administration (with no stimulus). In either case–stimulus or no stimulus–the unemployment rate was supposed to be down to 5.5% by now. And it’s actually still 8.3%.
As the chart makes instantly clear, the Obama administration drastically underestimated how bad the economy was and drastically overestimated its ability to do something about it.
As a result of this, President Obama over-promised and under-delivered on the single most important challenge of his Presidency: Jobs.
Also as a result, President Obama gave the Republicans ammunition to argue that his stimulus “failed,” when, in fact, it helped matters considerably (just not enough to fix everything).
Could the Obama Administration have fixed the economy in four years had they had done something different?
In my opinion, no.
As a quick glance at debt-to-GDP charts show, this recession was not a run-of-the-mill cyclical recession. It was a debt-fuelled balance sheet recession. And if there’s one thing history shows about those, they take a long time to fix. (See Japan and the Great Depression).
But Obama could have given himself a better chance to get re-elected despite the horrible economy. If Obama had recognised how bad things were, asked for a much bigger stimulus than he ended up asking for, and, importantly, set the appropriate expectations, he’d probably have been able to pin the blame for the mess where it belongs: On the three decades of decisions that facilitated the debt build-up that eventually culminated in the financial crisis–decisions that, importantly, were made by both Democrats and Republicans.
Instead, however, Obama over-promised and under-delivered. And this will make it that much harder for him to get re-elected.
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