Last night’s theme for the Republican convention was “Make America Safe Again,” but if you were watching, you would have thought it was actually “We’re All Gonna Die!” Tonight’s theme is “Make America Work Again.”
Given what we’ve heard from Donald Trump and other Republicans in recent days, you can be sure that the tenor of the evening will be less “America faces serious economic challenges” and more “Why we’re living in a dystopian nightmare of deprivation and misery.”
It’s obviously in the interests of the opposition to paint as grim a picture as possible, to give force to the argument that we ought to change the party controlling the White House. But that picture has to have at least some plausibility to it. And that’s the problem for Republicans — their relentless disparaging of the American economy is so over the top that it makes them look completely disconnected from the actual reality people are living in. It’s as though Democrats took America to a passable neighborhood restaurant, and instead of saying, “okay, but this food could be a lot better,” Republicans are saying, “My god, look at the bowl of maggots and raw sewage they’re making you eat!!!”
I’m not arguing that everything about America’s economy is hunky-dory. Wage growth has been too slow, and there are a lot of people who still haven’t recovered from the devastation they suffered when the housing market crashed in 2008. A lot of young people are crushed by the debts they incurred to attend college. There are serious, substantial, longstanding problems with the economy that need to be addressed.
But that doesn’t change the fact that there is going to be a blizzard of baloney sweeping through Cleveland tonight. Here are some of the things you’ll hear, and why they’re wrong:
- In America today, there are no jobs to be found, because the Obama economy didn’t create any jobs. The truth: When Obama took office in January 2009, seasonally adjusted nonfarm employment, the most common measure used for the country’s job total, was at 134 million. Last month it stood at 144.2 million, meaning he has seen the creation of 10 million jobs. Obama took office in the depths of the Great Recession; the economy was hemorrhaging around 700,000 jobs a month in his first few months in office, before his policies could have any chance to work. If we measure from the point where the recession bottomed out a year after he took office, he has seen the creation of 14.4 million jobs. Also, when Obama took office the unemployment rate was 7.8 percent; by that October it had risen to 10 percent. Today it’s at 4.9 percent.
- Obamacare is a job-killer. It’s exceedingly weird that Republicans keep repeating this, but they do. The truth: The economy has added jobs in every month since the Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010. See #1 for details.
- The deficit is out of control. Republicans care about the deficit only when there’s a Democrat in the White House. When there’s a Republican there, we can do anything we want (wars, huge tax cuts) and not worry about how to pay for it, but the deficit suddenly becomes terribly urgent when a Democrat is in charge. But here’s the truth: In Obama’s first year in office, the deficit was $1.4 trillion. Last year it was $438 billion, a decline of over two-thirds.
- We don’t make anything anymore. This is something Donald Trump often says, in his litany of charges meant to show what a loser of a country the United States is. The truth: Manufacturing output, i.e. making stuff, has risen steadily throughout the Obama years. The problem isn’t that we’re not making stuff; rather, the problem is that the stuff we make doesn’t require as many workers as it used to. A lot of low-wage, labor-intensive kinds of manufacturing have indeed moved overseas, but the main culprit in the loss of American manufacturing jobs over the last few decades is automation.
- Trump has a plan to bring back manufacturing jobs. Any time someone says “Donald Trump has a plan…” it’s a good bet they’re full of it. Trump’s “plan” is that he’ll threaten a trade war with China unless they give us back our jobs. Not only is a trade war a spectacularly stupid idea, he never says what it would mean for them to “give back” the jobs. Are Chinese companies going to relocate to the United States, where they’ll pay people a dollar an hour to assemble knock-off electronics or sew tube socks? Like many of the things Trump says, as soon as you start thinking about it, it becomes clear how utterly ridiculous it is.
- Undocumented immigrants are taking your jobs. Look for a lot of this tonight, as the party has nominated the most virulently anti-immigrant candidate in living memory. But the general economic consensus is that while the presence of undocumented immigrants can keep wages down for unskilled workers with little education, it has benefits for the overall economy (see here or here).
- We’re one of the highest-taxed countries on earth. Trump says this a lot, and it’s just bogus. In fact, we have some of the lowest taxes among developed countries.
- Because Trump is a businessman, he knows how the economy works, so he can manage it better than any politician. This has been a pet peeve of mine for many years. There is absolutely zero reason to believe that the skills and knowledge you need to succeed in some particular industry are the same as the skills and knowledge you need to succeed in mastering the political system and fashioning macroeconomic policy that will benefit the whole country. Donald Trump does indeed have a good sense of how much it will cost to cover a hotel lobby in gold leaf. But the idea that Trump — a guy who managed to fail in the casino business and the steak business and the vodka business and the vitamin pyramid scheme business and the real estate seminar business and the football business and the airline business — is such an economic genius that once he takes the reins of the American economy we’ll be headed for nirvana is laughable on its face.
- Tax cuts for the wealthy are the sure way to create prosperity for all. You have to hand it to Republicans: despite the extreme unpopularity of their advocacy for upper-income tax cuts, they never stop advocating for them, so firm is their belief in the moral righteousness of this cause. But we’ve had some clear tests in recent decades of the proposition that the top tax rate is the ultimate determinant of the state of the economy. Bill Clinton raised taxes on the wealthy, and Republicans said it would create a “job-killing recession.” What ensued was the creation of 22 million jobs in eight years and income growth at all levels. George W. Bush cut taxes for the wealthy, and Republicans said it would create an explosion of growth and prosperity. What ensued was eight years of anemic job growth, culminating in economic catastrophe. Barack Obama raised taxes on the wealthy, and still managed to create the 14 million jobs I mentioned above.
- Everything that’s wrong in the American economy is Hillary Clinton’s fault. I’m not quite sure how they’re going to make this argument, but I know they’ll give it a shot. After all, if “Hillary Clinton invented ISIS” (yes, Trump actually said that), what other diabolical misdeeds isn’t she capable of? Who else can we blame for the fact that rents have gotten so high in that hipster neighborhood downtown? Shouldn’t she be held to account for our ongoing failure to produce flying cars? Isn’t it her fault that your boss is a jerk? Have no doubt: the answers to these questions will be revealed tonight. It should be fascinating.