President Donald Trump walks across the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Friday, March 23, 2018, as he heads to Marine One for a short trip to...
Manuel Balce Ceneta

Trump’s economic boasts grow increasingly divorced from reality

In his speech in Ohio last week, which was ostensibly about infrastructure, Donald Trump predictably bragged about the health of the economy. What was surprising, however, was the specific nature of the boasts.

“We’ve got the greatest economy maybe ever, maybe in history. We have the greatest economy we’ve ever had.

“You know the expression, from – I guess, it was Bill Clinton – ‘it’s the economy, stupid.’ Well, it is the economy… There’s never been an economy like this.”

Look, Americans should generally be pleased with the overall health of the economy, but to believe this is the greatest economy in the history of the United States is plainly ridiculous.

It’s not even the strongest economy of the 21st century. GDP growth, for example, looked good in Trump’s first year, but it fell short, not only of Trump’s campaign promises, but also of GDP growth across much of Barack Obama’s presidency.

Similarly, job growth was encouraging in 2017, but the number of jobs created in Trump’s first year fell short of the annual totals in Obama’s second term. The unemployment rate looks great – continuing a trend that began several years before Trump took office – but it was even lower in 2000, the final year of Bill Clinton’s second term.

And while the White House has been eager to make a fuss about the job data from the first two months of 2018, the truth is there’s nothing especially historic about those figures.

In American history, we’ve experienced several enormous economic booms. The status quo is good, but it’s not that good.

Just so there’s no ambiguity here, my point is not to criticize the health of the economy. The recent data looks good, and that’s heartening news, regardless of any political considerations. If the president wanted to claim credit for not making things worse, it’d make sense.

But the economy is healthy enough that Trump shouldn’t feel the need to lie about it. The idea that there’s “never been an economy like this” is absurd. On many occasions, and by every relevant metric, we’ve seen vastly stronger economies throughout American history.

Circling back to a point we discussed a few weeks ago, when the economy is in good shape, there’s no reason for Trump or anyone else to spin it, massage it, or repackage it in misleading ways. Telling the truth works fine. Maybe the White House should try it.