When American presidents make claims about their economic achievements, and when they are criticized for their failures, words of caution are necessary. With this caveat in mind, I will offer the following comparison with qualifications — such as the myth of Obama’s huge debt.
A warning to readers. This is a rather wonkish column with lots of data. For example, Trump charged that Obama’s employment numbers were “fake,” but he is now drawing on the same government statistics for his claims. The economy is now slowing, and we can expect the Great Truth Defier to play the same game.
The Economic Performance Index (compiled by international economists), is based on inflation, unemployment, budget deficits and economic growth. Noting the changes in these five factors at beginning and end of their terms, Reagan ranks first and Obama second with Clinton, Kennedy, Eisenhower, and Johnson rounding out the top seven. It’s too early to calculate a score for Trump.
Over eight years Obama created 16 million jobs and averaged 187,000 per month. Trump wildly predicted that he would create 25 million jobs, but at the current monthly rate of 176,000 (assuming that holds), there will be at most 8.4 million new positions during his one and only term in office.
Trump and his advisers boasted that the economy would grow on average 4 percent, but increases have exceeded 3 percent in only two quarters. Obama had stronger quarters (4.7, 3.6, 5, and 5.5), but the overall average, according to Bloomberg economists, was just 2.1 percent. The Economist magazine, which is usually right on, predicts that Trump will end 2019 year at 2.2 percent.
Some economists are predicting that, primarily because of Trump’s trade wars, we will have a recession. If that happens, Trump will be responsible for ending, after Obama started it, the longest economic expansion in American history.
Obama reduced the annual budget deficit from 10 to 3.2 percent. Under Trump it has now risen to 4.7 percent, primarily because of the GOP tax cut, and it will no doubt climb higher as slow growth will fail to produce sufficient revenues to off-set spending. The 2019 deficit is estimated at nearly $1 trillion, a little less than double Obama’s last three annual deficits.
Obama was blamed for the dramatic increase in the national debt, but the Bush Jr. tax cuts, his unfunded wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Great Recession — not the stimulus or Obamacare — were the main reasons for that. Even pro-business Forbes magazine admits that Obama was not responsible for doubling the debt.
Obama brought down the unemployment rate from a high of 10 percent at the end of 2009 to 4.7 percent at the end of his two terms (it is now at 3.5 percent). Trump boasts that he is responsible for the current low unemployment rate for African Americans, but under Obama the rate came down from a high of 17 percent to 8 percent at the end of his presidency.
Many pundits believe that Obama’s weakest area was foreign policy, especially his failure to act in Syria. One of the things he did right there was to form an alliance with the Kurds who, with 11,000 dead and 21,000 injured, were primarily responsible for defeating ISIS in their Syrian strongholds.
It is now clear that Trump believes Turkish President Recipe Erdogan’s false claim that all the Kurds are terrorists, and that the Turks should have free reign to destroy them. Russian troops have quickly filled the vacuum our pull-out has created, and the Syrian government is now occupying an area that was heretofore not under its control.
As Paul Krugman said in a recent column: “Trump is an unprincipled and ill-informed guy who can be flattered, bribed, or simply fooled into giving (foreign leaders) what they want.”
Nick Gier, University of Idaho professor emeritus, can be reached at email@example.com.