After Friday’s discouraging jobs report, there was increasing talk on the right about the benefits of George W. Bush’s record, as if the nation would be better off turning back the clock to 2008.
As Jeremy Holden noted, “Bush economic revisionism approached satire [last] week, as the conservative commentariat began suggesting that voters miss the former president remembered for pursuing economic policies that drove the national economy into a historic recession and financial crisis.” Fox ran a picture of Bush with the headline, “Miss me yet?”
I hope that’s a rhetorical question.
Just for fun, I put together this chart this morning, showing job-creation numbers for every year since 2001, Bush’s first year in office. In the image, the lighter color shows job losses/gains in the overall economy, while the darker color reflects just the private sector.
Context, of course, is key. When Bush took office in 2001, the economy had slowed, but it was a mild downturn compared to the global financial collapse that was underway in 2009. And yet, note that the economy added jobs in President Obama’s second year, which is more than we can say for his Republican predecessor. In Obama’s third year, 2011, more private sector jobs were created than in seven of the eight years Bush was in the White House.
Even this year, after just five months, some of which have been far from adequate, the economy has added more jobs than in Bush’s first three years in office combined.
For that matter, note than when the economy added jobs under Bush, the private sector lagged the overall economy, while under Obama, the opposite is true, with the private sector generating the job growth. There’s a reason for this: Bush relied on government jobs while the private sector scaled back, while under Obama, the public sector has lost jobs while businesses expanded.
By contemporary Republican standards, this means Bush was a far more effective big-government socialist than Obama.
Ezra Klein had an item about a month ago, highlighting some of the economic lowlights of the Bush/Cheney era.
To make it look weaker, you add back in some context. Monthly job growth from March 2001 to December 2007 – so, from the pre-2001 recession peak to the pre-2007 recession peak – was 68,000. That’s one of the weakest expansions on record. Meanwhile, poverty and inequality were increasing even as median incomes were falling. Oh, and while Bush’s deficits weren’t huge, they came during a period of growth – normally, periods of growth are when you cut the deficit, as we saw in the 1990s. So these were deficits of an unusually irresponsible sort.
To make it look absolutely awful, you add in the fact that there was a huge credit bubble inflating beneath the economy that George W. Bush did nothing to stop and that his choice for Federal Reserve chairman, Alan Greenspan, did much to inflate. So as weak as the decade’s economic numbers look, they’re much, much worse when you realize they were artificially pumped up by the bubble, and Bush’s record is much, much worse when you add that the economic collapse began on his watch, and the long-term cost of the tax cuts and Medicare Part D and the war in Iraq.
In other words, the more you actually know about Bush’s economy, how it compares with other periods in our economy and the role it played in the financial crisis, the worse it looks.
Do I “miss” Bush’s economic policies? No, I really don’t.