Monday, January 28, 2008

Reporting on the Bush Economy

Sometimes I wonder what it takes to be a reporter for a newspaper. In this morning's New York Times, reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg has a front-page story about the Bush economy. She leads with this:
Will George W. Bush be remembered as the president who lost the economy while trying to win a war?

Mr. Bush has spent years presiding over an economic climate of growth that would be the envy of most presidents. Yet much to the consternation of his political advisers, he has had trouble getting credit for it, in large part because Americans were consumed by the war in Iraq.
Is this true? Not according to her own reporting later in the article:
Polls show that the public feels unsettled about the future. The percentage of Americans who believe the country is on the wrong track now stands at 75 percent, while just 19 percent believe it is on the right track, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll this month...

Representative Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, has been warning for months of a looming “Bush recession.” The day before the stimulus deal was reached, Mr. Emanuel released a chart titled “The Legacy of George W. Bush’s Presidency,” which contrasted a litany of economic indicators, like the price of gasoline and median household income, from 2001 to today. None favored Mr. Bush.

From a strictly economic perspective, it is difficult to blame Mr. Bush for the current crisis. Even some economists who have been critical of the president, like Bruce Bartlett, who worked in the Reagan and first Bush administrations, say he cannot be held liable for the burst of the housing bubble or problems in credit markets.

But from a political perspective, it is hard for Mr. Bush to escape. The economic expansion that came after his tax cuts has largely benefited the wealthy, which is why it is easy for Democrats like Mr. Emanuel to make the case that Mr. Bush’s stewardship of the economy has created “a middle-class squeeze.” And if the president ends his term in a recession, it will be difficult for him to point to any real economic progress on his watch.
It's interesting that she didn't link to her paper's poll, where a quick perusal will show that since January '04 poll respondents have said that the country is heading in the wrong direction, with numbers getting worse every year. And Times columnist Paul Krugman has been talking about Middle Class malaise over the economy endlessly during the Bush Presidency. Here he is in 2005:

But as The Times's series on class in America reminds us, that was another country. The middle-class society I grew up in no longer exists.

Working families have seen little if any progress over the past 30 years. Adjusted for inflation, the income of the median family doubled between 1947 and 1973. But it rose only 22 percent from 1973 to 2003, and much of that gain was the result of wives' entering the paid labor force or working longer hours, not rising wages.

Meanwhile, economic security is a thing of the past: year-to-year fluctuations in the incomes of working families are far larger than they were a generation ago. All it takes is a bit of bad luck in employment or health to plunge a family that seems solidly middle-class into poverty.

As Stolberg notes, the Bush tax increases have "largely" benefited the wealthy. The rest of us are falling behind, and Bush has done nothing to make us feel better about our situation. While it is true that Presidents can't control the economic cycle, they can avoid promoting tax cuts that favor a tiny sliver of the American people; they can also avoid launching unprovoked wars that cost lives, plunge us into deep debt, and make the whole world a more dangerous place.

Bush deserves all the credit he is getting for our economic insecurity.

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