Speaker of the House Paul Ryan speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., March 22, 2018. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
AARON P. BERNSTEIN

With bogus economic boasts, Paul Ryan flunks an easy test

Updated

Americans received some encouraging economic news on Friday – GDP growth reached 4.1% between April and June – though it came with some caveats. Some of the results were driven by one-time factors, and most economists believe growth will be slower in the second half of the year.

Donald Trump and his allies nevertheless launched a deeply deceptive and cynical public-relations campaign, filled with boasts that didn’t make any sense, and which appeared designed to exploit public ignorance.

Yesterday, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) added insult to injury, using social media to highlight this piece his office published online.

They said it couldn’t be done. ‘They,’ in this case, are progressive economists, and ‘it’ is strong economic growth.

Friday’s news that our economy is growing at its fastest rate since 2014 shows just how far we’ve come in a relatively short time. Remember that growth during the Obama administration was so slow for so long that it was called the ‘new normal.’ … We’ve chosen to put America back on a path of growth, and the American people are better off now.

This is a terrific encapsulation of a terrible argument, so let’s unpack it.

First, there are literally zero progressive economists who said 4.1% quarterly economic growth couldn’t be done. Not one. To insist that “they said it couldn’t be done” is demonstrably false. What progressive economists said was that an annual growth rate this high wouldn’t happen – and those economists were right.

I’m going to assume that Ryan – celebrated by his fans as a “wonk” who cares about economic arithmetic – knows the difference between a quarter (3 months) and a year (12 months). The alternative is that he actually believes his nonsensical pitch.

Second, it’s hard not to be amused by the contradictions of the House Speaker’s piece. As Ryan sees it, economic growth during the Obama administration was too “slow.” Fortunately, he added, we’re now seeing the strongest growth since 2014.

Remind me, who was in office in 2014?

Ryan’s argument, in a nutshell, is that Obama-era growth was weak, but fortunately, we’re now seeing the kind of growth we saw in the Obama era.

Indeed, the Speaker’s reference to 2014 is of particular interest. It was in 2014 that Republicans invested enormous amounts of energy into pushing a very specific case: the combination of the Affordable Care Act, federal regulations, Dodd-Frank reforms, and higher taxes acted as a “wet blanket” on economic growth.

Except, in 2014, we saw quarterly growth climb as high as 5.1% – which is quite a bit higher than the latest quarterly growth that Republicans are so excited about.

My point is not to pick on Paul Ryan specifically. Since Friday morning, all kinds of Republicans and their allies have made obvious mistakes about basic details, and it’d be unfair to suggest the House Speaker is somehow unique in peddling false, misleading, and cynical claims.

But there’s a general expectation that Paul Ryan, more so than most, knows what he’s talking about, especially when it comes to economic data. Those assumptions are proving to be about as reliable as the House Speaker’s “They said it couldn’t be done” piece.

GDP and Paul Ryan

With bogus economic boasts, Paul Ryan flunks an easy test

Updated