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Democrats getting our messages crossed

by Eric Ferguson on June 13, 2017

trump12Go ahead, get the snark out of the way. “Isn’t that always the case?” Maybe, however, we’re talking about a specific matter where different Democrats put out messages that don’t go together.
This is something I’ve noticed during the last couple monthly jobs reports from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) (the most recent report is always here). Different Democrats reacted in ways to indicate there are two schools of thought on how we should frame the economy. One tries to pick out weaknesses, like a dropping amount of jobs created each month or a decline in the rate of participation in the labor force, to show how the economy is weakening since Trump got hold of it. The other, and I subscribe to this other (or should I say still subscribe), holds that the economy is currently strong and we need to emphasize that Trump inherited this economy.


I understand where the other side is coming from, because there are weaknesses in the last jobs report, but that’s always the case. Even the strongest economy has weak spots, so of course it’s tempting the emphasize the weak points. The problem is an economy with an unemployment rate around 4.5% is pretty good, and it looks ridiculous to argue otherwise. Yes, there are always some regions and occupations that aren’t sharing in the prosperity, and there are long term problems and potential problems. That doesn’t mean the unemployment rate isn’t low because it’s high in some places. That’s just a variation that always occurs, like some regions and industries got spared the 2008-2009 recession, even as awful as it was.

What’s more, the economy is big and complicated, and it takes a long time for a president to affect it. Economic conventional wisdom holds that a president’s policies take around a year to have an effect, outside of emergency measures that to have a more immediate effect, like Pres. Obama’s 2009 stimulus. How much longer for Trump, who has accomplished bugger-all so far? So not only is the economy strong, but it isn’t yet Trump’s economy. It’s still Obama’s. Trump inherited his good fortune like he inherited his financial fortune.

Consider that while the strong economy can get better, it can’t get much better … but it can get much worse. Maybe Trump thinks he’s too smart to have a recession. He’s wrong, as much as he’s wrong when he takes credit for announcements of corporate hiring plans that were made well before the election. So if, and probably when, the economy turns down, if the public understands the economy was strong when Trump got there, then a likely conclusion will be that he screwed it up. If somehow the economy stays strong, Trump will try to claim credit, but that will be harder if the economy has been framed as strong already.
So we can’t lose, unless we’re trying to tell people a clearly strong economy somehow isn’t. As tempting as it may be to point to some downbeat news, like if the numbers of new jobs declines, or the unemployment rate ticks up, what happens some month when the job numbers go up or the unemployment rate goes down? Both go up, and they go down, as well as get revised for prior months when more complete information comes in. GDP goes up, and it goes down. The trade deficit goes up, and down. The inflation rate and interest rates and so on move back and forth. What happens in any one month is just noise, and Republicans just made themselves look ridiculous trying to spin the numbers when Obama was in office. Do we want to frame an economic message around something so likely to turn the other way?

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