Why Everyone Is Wrong About The Economy
In these days of extreme partisanship, it is comforting to look at an issue and know both sides of it are completely wrong. In this case, I'm talking about the idiocy of blaming or praising a sitting president for how good or bad the economy is, as though they're America's dad and either made a bunch of sales at work or didn't earn enough on commission to have Christmas this year. In reality, presidents can't "revitalize" the economy any more than opening up a rotten marriage can "revitalize" it. So whether you're left of Bernie, right of Paul, or even further up Donald's ass than Donald, join me in marveling at the stupidity of thinking the president makes the economy.
Most recently, this has taken the form of Fox flaunting how many more jobs were created in Trump's first 100 days than in Obama's. They posted this graphic, presumably to convince people that Trump is killing it:
The left pounced on Fox's idiocy, (correctly) pointing out that the graphic actually makes the exact opposite point. It shows that in recent history, Republican presidents have turned the rosy economies inherited from their Democratic predecessors into disasters for the Democrat following them to clean up. It's like praising a toddler for being remarkably clean, even though his parents always seem to have shit on their hands. But the larger point is that, and I wish there were a font big enough to make this stick in people's minds, THE PRESIDENT CONTROLS THE ECONOMY AS MUCH AS GARY BUSEY CONTROLS HIS FACIAL EXPRESSIONS.
Before you ask me to bottle my liberal tears so you can enjoy them at a later date, this is a point that hurts the left far more than the right. As Democrats love to point out, the economy almost always does better under Democrats than under "fiscally tough" Republicans. But it's important that they stop flaunting that, because it has about the same significance as me getting pocket-dialed by Danielle Haim. As much as I might want to read into it, anyone who understands the way the world functions knows it's absolutely coincidence.
For example, Hillary Clinton said on the campaign trail that she would have put Bill in charge of fixing the economy, because he knows how to do that. Presumably he "knows how" because he presided over one of the largest and most impactful periods of economic growth in the country's history. And indeed, we owe a large debt of gratitude to Bill Clinton for going around the country personally starting the internet startups that fueled dot com boom of the '90s after he had Al Gore invent the internet.
So what Hillary is suggesting there is that Bill has another world-changing technology up his sleeve that would drive business for decades to come, which he would have unveiled had she become president. Honestly, it seems pretty selfish of them not to share it even though they lost.
Contrary to what chart-making Democrats would have you believe, a study by Alan Blinder and Mark Watson, economists at Princeton University, found that the president has as much to do with economic growth as your personality has to do with winning The Bachelor -- that is to say, maybe a bit, but it's debatable. After they controlled for factors like the price of oil and changing demographics, they found that it didn't matter whether the guy in the captain's chair was wearing a blue or a red tie. That means that every four years, we engage in a collective act of pointless masochism by having our presidential candidates bore us with nonsense about how they'd improve the economy. It would be just as effective for a debate moderator to say, "And now for our section on the economy, both of you shut up because nothing you say matters," and then sit there for 40 minutes in blissful silence.
One reason party doesn't make a huge difference is that economists often don't fall neatly along party lines. An economic adviser to John McCain was very much in favor of an economic stimulus, and even complained that Obama's eventual stimulus wasn't big enough. The chair of the Federal Reserve usually serves long enough to work with presidents from both parties, and often doesn't act in a "liberal" or "conservative" way based on who appointed them. Contrary to Air Force One, rare are the situations in which the president has to go rogue and solve problems single-fistedly.
Another thing to keep in mind is that any impact presidents do have is on a delay much longer than our current 24-second news cycle. You don't invest in infrastructure by going loading up a T-shirt cannon with cash and yelling "Build roads, jerks!" as you fire indiscriminately from the roof of the Capitol. Who thinks that government spending works that way?
And speaking of Trump, it is worth noting that, while presidents haven't generally had a large immediate impact on the economy, it's not that they can't. Nixon famously instituted a freeze on all prices and wages in the United States, which was quickly proven to be a very stupid thing to do, and it took years to undo. If U.S. companies can't import talented workers from other countries because of extreme immigration laws, that would be problematic. The Iraq War spiked the price of oil, which was immediately bad for the economy. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that he thinks the problem with the drug war was ... apparently nothing, as he wants to keep fighting that war the same old way, locking up millions of people -- which certainly has an impact on our economy the moment someone's put away for having a joint. In a perfect microcosm of how the entire world works, a president can definitely fuck things up, but their "surefire" plan to make things go well is just so much hot air.
Finally, keep in mind that (in a hilariously Kafkaesque way we've accepted) we live under the thumb of a boom-and-bust economic cycle that literally no one can predict. Markets go up and markets go down, like a jagged sine wave diabolically laughing at us. Millions of people spend every waking hour trying to figure out the details of why and how, so that they can make more money off the next one. So far they haven't figured it out, and they sure as shit haven't told the government how it works. Right now, the conventional wisdom is that we're due for a bust soon.
When it hits, it will be tempting to blame it on Trump -- though, paradoxically the people who are currently bragging about the numbers from his first 100 days will likely be silent. But in all likelihood, it won't actually be his fault. So hopefully when the next election cycle begins in 15 minutes, instead of a deluge of articles from the left blaming Trump or a torrent of articles from the right somehow blaming Hillary Clinton, everyone will say, "And now for our section on the economy: Both of you shut up because nothing you say matters."
The proliferation of beer pong and craft beer may have you think that we're living in one of the peak times to get drunk, but humans have been getting famously hammered for millennia. Like a frat house's lawn after a kegger, history is littered with world changing events that were secretly powered by booze. The inaugural games of the Roman Coliseum, the drafting of the U.S. Constitution, and the Russian Revolution were all capped off by major parties that most attendees probably regretted in the morning.
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For more, check out 5 Scary Myths You Probably Believe About the Economy and 7 Bizarre Trends That Predict an Economic Collapse.
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