Trump’s economic illiteracy keeps getting in the way

Updated

It stands to reason that Donald Trump would want to focus on the strength of the economy, since it’s the only thing keeping the president’s approval rating from collapsing to new depths. There’s room for a spirited debate over just how much credit Trump deserves for current conditions – the current expansion started long before the Republican took office – but at its root, there’s an obvious logic to the president highlighting good news.

But if Trump is going to keep talking about the economy, he really ought to get up to speed on the basics. Let’s take his tweets from today, one at a time:

“The GDP Rate (4.2%) is higher than the Unemployment Rate (3.9%) for the first time in over 100 years!”

This is wrong for a wide variety of reasons. First, it’s a mistake to compare a percentage shift to a more static level. Second, it’s a mistake to equate quarterly growth with annual growth. Third, even if we pretend quarterly growth is annual growth, Trump’s boast is false. And finally, if we treat quarterly growth as quarterly growth, Trump’s boast is even further from the truth.

Next up:

“If the Democrats had won the Election in 2016, GDP, which was about 1% and going down, would have been minus 4% instead of up 4.2%. I opened up our beautiful economic engine with Regulation and Tax Cuts. Our system was choking and would have been made worse. Still plenty to do!”

Trump appears to be simply making up numbers that pop into his head, which makes it tough to fact-check, but what he said about the GDP growth he inherited is plainly and demonstrably wrong.

Moving on:

“The Economy is soooo good, perhaps the best in our country’s history (remember, it’s the economy stupid!), that the Democrats are flailing & lying like CRAZY! Phony books, articles and T.V. ‘hits’ like no other pol has had to endure-and they are losing big. Very dishonest people!”

Most of this is just meaningless palaver, but the idea that the economy has never been as strong as it is now isn’t even close  to being true.

And finally:

“ ‘President Trump would need a magic wand to get to 4% GDP,’ stated President Obama. I guess I have a magic wand, 4.2%, and we will do MUCH better than this! We have just begun.”

First, he’s still confusing quarterly growth rates with annual growth rates, which are not the same thing (just like a quarter of a football game isn’t the same thing as a whole game). Second, Trump is badly misquoting Obama, who was, among other things, talking about annual growth, and pointing to growth the president promised to create, but won’t. [Update: Glenn Kessler added, “Not only did Obama never say this, but Obama topped 5% in one quarter, so who has the bigger magic wand?”]

And finally, by obsessively pointing to a 4.2% growth rate that he doesn’t understand, Trump is setting himself up for failure when future GDP reports point to much lower data.

I don’t blame Trump for talking about the economy; I blame him for not knowing what he’s talking about.

Update: OK, just for fun, one more. This presidential missive came from the weekend, not today:

“We are breaking all Jobs and Economic Records but, importantly, our Country has TREMENDOUS FUTURE POTENTIAL. We have just begun!”

Trump’s first year in office was the slowest year for job growth in six years, and tallying up all of the jobs created since Trump took office, and comparing the totals from the months leading up to his inauguration, shows that job growth has actually slowed since he became president.

To date, the White House has not offered an explanation for the trend.

Donald Trump

Trump's economic illiteracy keeps getting in the way

Updated