What the numbers now tell us about Biden’s economy

The folllowing editorial was published in The Daily Sun on Dec 6, 2023.

You may have noticed in recent weeks that alarming headlines about inflation — specifically, those ubiquitous stories about the cost of gasoline, or eggs, or other household goods — have vanished. Media outlets no longer feature those fearsome charts with arrows zooming skyward, or video loops displaying the latest eye-popping gas station signage. Much as the mainstream media seemed to enjoy scourging President Joe Biden with the bad news about raging hikes in the price of everything, that depressing theme has disappeared because inflation is falling.

In October, what economists describe as “core inflation,” meaning the price of goods and services other than food and energy, declined to 2% — the target set by the Federal Reserve. And what they understandably call “headline inflation,” the more volatile measure of prices that include all consumer purchases, including groceries and gas, dropped on a monthly level to zero.

Got that? Zero. Year over year, the rise in personal consumption expenditures has plummeted to 3%.

So encouraging were those numbers to the financial sector — and presumably the central bankers at the Federal Reserve — that some now forecast a cut in interest rates. Dropping rates would likely prevent the recession that has been forecast (with glee) by many Republicans — and bring America in for a “soft landing” from the pandemic recovery.

Will Biden get any credit for this improvement? Not from most media organizations, nor from pundits who wrongly blamed him for the inflation spurt in the first place, when they knew that other countries were suffering much worse price increases in the pandemic’s wake. Indeed, too many outlets are barely even noting that inflation has collapsed.

At the same time, the president’s “Bidenomics” program has brought continued steady growth and strong employment, with the annualized gross domestic product topping 5.2% in October — and unemployment steady at 3.9%. Economists have long tended to view a 4% jobless rate as “full employment,” essentially the best that can be achieved in a capitalist system without spurring inflation. Our current unemployment level is among the lowest in the G20 industrialized countries.

The reason is so simple that even a wingnut can understand: Under this president, the United States has seen an unsurpassed record of job creation, with 14 million new positions since he took office, far more than the last three Republican presidents combined. The social impact of high employment is profound, which is why traditional Democrats like Biden consistently promote infrastructure, education, environmental and income support policies that boost jobs. As California Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom explained during this week’s Fox News debate with Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis (whom he crushed), the nation is now seeing the lowest rate of poverty in our history, as employment among Blacks, Hispanics and women have reached new peaks.

Are you starting to see a fuller picture here? Let’s add a few more features: Personal income rose over 5% in the first quarter of this year and continued to go up into the second and third quarters. Consumer spending rose 3.6%, while housing investment increased to 6.2%, almost half again what had been predicted.

You may well retort that polling consistently shows — and the media persistently emphasize — that most Americans say they are unhappy with the economy and blame the president, resulting in poor approval ratings and endangering Biden’s reelection prospects. And that’s undeniably true, as far as it goes. But more than one expert now wonders why, if so many of our neighbors feel pessimistic and even angry, they keep buying stuff as if everything is working out just fine.

Economist Dean Baker suspects the influence of slanted news coverage and can imagine a very different political scenario. “If we had the exact same economy, and (former President) Donald Trump was in the White House,” Baker says, “Trump would be endlessly saying ‘greatest economy ever.’ Every Republican politician in the country would be amplifying the claim and all the political pundits would be writing that the strong economy will make Trump almost a sure bet for reelection.”

Sooner or later, the majority of Americans will wake up and realize that Joe Biden has not only protected us from recession but has created the conditions for a generation of prosperity. Let’s hope they figure that out before it is too late — and vote to defend the future from Trump’s madness.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Image Credits: Associated Press