At his formal presidential campaign kickoff this week in Miami, Jeb Bush pointed to a rather specific economic target. "There is not a reason in the world why we cannot grow at a rate of four percent a year," the Florida Republican said. "And that will be my goal as president -- four percent growth, and the 19 million new jobs that come with it."
In reality, there are all kinds of reasons why GDP growth of 4% per year is unrealistic -- reasons Bush is supposed to understand. Indeed, in the modern era, how many presidents have averaged 4 percent growth over the course of their terms? Zero. Not Clinton, not Reagan, not Obama, no one.
But the real fun kicks in when we consider how, exactly, Jeb Bush arrived at his 4% target. When Reuters asked for an explanation, the Republican responded, "It's a nice round number. It's double the growth that we are growing at. It's not just an aspiration. It's doable."
Except, it's not doable at all. Matt Yglesias flagged this piece, noting that Bush apparently chose his goal randomly, "backed by zero substantive analysis of any kind."
That ambitious goal was first raised as Bush and other advisers to the George W. Bush Institute discussed a distinctive economic program the organization could promote, recalled James Glassman, then the institute's executive director. "Even if we don't make 4 percent it would be nice to grow at 3 or 3.5," said Glassman, now a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. In that conference call, "we were looking for a niche and Jeb in that very laconic way said, 'four percent growth.' It was obvious to everybody that this was a very good idea."
That's a great use of the word "laconic," by the way. There was no detailed economic discussion, no number crunching, no projections based on hours of pouring over spreadsheets. Bush just blurted it out, convinced that four is a round number.
This is problematic on its face, but let's not forget that for much of the political world, Jeb Bush is one of his party's leading policy wonks. This is the guy who describes himself as a "nerd" who loves public policy and the substantive ideas of governing.
Except this reputation is a sham. He got on the phone with some folks from the George W. Bush Institute -- as if his brother's economic team was brimming with competence -- and picked that number off the top of his head, confident that his vague ideas about tax cuts will make him the single most successful economic president of the last 75 years.
Anyone who still considers the former governor a policy wonk simply isn't paying close enough attention.