Comments on U.S. Political Scene

January 16, 2015

Obama’s Economic Record

This coming Tuesday marks the completion of the sixth year of Obama’s presidency.  Three-fourths of his stewardship belongs to history, which presents a convenient opportunity to calculate how the economy has done during the period so far.  The economy was in an expansionary phase for all but the first five months of the Obama years.  Real GDP on average rose 1.9% per annum.  Jobs were created at an annualized rate of 0.7%, but the unemployment rate on balance fell 2.2 percentage points from 7.8% in January 2009 to 5.6% last month.  Consumer price inflation, like real GDP growth, averaged 1.9% per year.  The Dow Jones Industrial Average climbed by a stellar 13.9% per annum, and the dollar advanced 2.0% per year against the euro.  Today’s level of dollar/yen is virtually the same as what Obama inherited, and the trade-weighted dollar rose about 1% per year.  Unsustainable fiscal and current account deficits have each been trimmed substantially to manageable levels.  Improvement in the economy was not distributed evenly, but as a whole, the United States emerged from the Great Recession in much better fashion than other advanced economies.

It’s Not the Economy, Stupid

President Obama is not popular.  Explanations for the scant credit the president gets for the above economic record are many and varied.  He’s not a good communicator and rarely seems to steer the public conversation on matters of foreign policy or domestic policy to a message that would cast his presidency in the best light.  His greatest domestic achievement, the Affordable Care Act, has been an albatross from a political standpoint.  Much of America prefers the old system, which costs more per person than care in other economies but doesn’t deliver longer or healthier lives.  Although health care inflation has slowed appreciably since the ACA became law, vestiges of a messed-up healthcare system persist.  A proliferation of “ask your doctor ads” in the U.S. media is one example.  Such puts the initiative for medical treatment on the unknowing patient rather than the credentialed doctor.  These medicines, which the ads suggest may be “right for you,” generally come with a long and quickly spoken list of dire possible side effects. People are left to wonder if the logical doctor-to-patient chain of command in marketing of these prescription drugs has been reversed because they are not strongly favored by doctors in the first place. 

History Suggests a Republican Edge in the 2016 Presidential Race

When a president is unpopular, his party tends not to hold onto the White House in the ensuing election.  This is even true for presidents, who in accordance with the 22nd amendment are ineligible to run for another term.  In my life, I can think of only one exception in the latter circumstance, and that was in 2000.  Clinton was still pretty much liked in 2000, yet Gore lost in spite of winning the popular vote. 

Darwinism and U.S. Conservatism

Darwinism is embraced by the right in economic policy but rejected in social policy.  Income and wealth inequality are a natural occurrence of a market economy that rewards success and weeds out failure.  The appropriate role of government is defined narrowly.  It’s limited to establishing a consistently enforced rule of law and a safe environment in which entrepreneurs and workers can compete.  Survival of the fittest is king.  In social policy, by contrast, Darwinian explanations for things divine are rejected in favor of intelligent design, and a hands-on role for government is sought aggressively for passing and enforcing laws consistent with the teachings of spiritual leaders and texts.  It’s an odd juxtaposition.

Copyright 2015, Larry Greenberg.  All rights reserved.  No secondary distribution without express permission.


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