The Thinker: Rich Galen


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An American Cyber-Column By Rich Galen
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Good Numbers, Bad Numbers

Rich Galen

Monday July 30, 2018

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  • Remembering that Donald Trump is a man who speaks in exclamation points and in ALL CAPS, he gets to take a victory lap over the quarterly Gross Domestic Product numbers that were released on Friday.

  • In the 2nd quarter of 2018, the U.S. economy grew by 4.1 percent. That is a very good number.

  • Even the New York Times had to admit it. An article by Ben Castleman began:
    "Tax cuts and federal spending are adding fuel to the already strong economy, putting the United States on a pace for its best year of growth in well over a decade."

  • Because Donald Trump is his own worst enemy (and, given the number of enemies he has collected that's saying something) it wasn't enough to claim that the U.S. economy is the biggest, strongest, most stable economy on the planet, but he had to say, in effect, it is the biggest, strongest, and most stable economy in the history of economies.

  • That gave Trump's critics a chance to jump in.

  • CBS news was typical:
    "While Mr. Trump praised the 4.1 percent annual growth rate in the second quarter, the economy exceeded that level four times during the Obama presidency: in 2009, 2011 and twice in 2014."

  • Experts cast doubt on the sustainability of a 4.1 percent growth rate, or even the desirability of that kind of growth. The Federal Reserve is keeping a close eye on the growth rate, fearing it will lead to the ebola of the economy: inflation.

  • Some give the credit for the 2nd quarter numbers - at least in part - to the Fed and not to the White House.

  • In fact, at least one economist, Avarahm Shama, the former dean of the College of Business at the University of Texas, wrote in an op-ed published in The Hill newspaper:
    "[Fed Chairman Jerome Powell's] "monetary policy has been fully successful in increasing employment and keeping inflation low, improving the welfare of the American consumer."

  • My knowledge of economics is pretty thin. The only thing I remember about Econ 113 was the professor warning us that "if you laid all the economists in the world end-to-end, they still wouldn't reach a conclusion."

  • If the stats are correct, you are probably working. The company you work for is probably doing pretty well. And, depending on the industry, the owner(s) are looking forward to a bright future.

  • I raise that because back in the day, we use to say something like: "Whatever the economy is like in mid-August is what voters carry with them on election day in November."

  • If that's the case then the predictions of a "blue wave" are overstated.

  • In 1991 the economy contracted by 0.1 percent - essentially flat. By the next year, 1992, the economy had restarted and the annual GDP growth rate was 3.6 percent.

  • Yet, James Carville refused to allow the voting public to let that take hold by demanding the entire campaign of Bill Clinton against George H.W. Bush center around his mantra: "It's the economy, stupid."

  • Ross Perot, as a third party candidate, was a big reason for Clinton defeating Bush, but the public's perception of the economy was far different from what the numbers were telling them.

  • That is important because we are now inside of 100 days before the mid-term elections.

  • Last week the University of Virginia's Center for Politics led by Larry Sabato, published a look-ahead which began:
    "Democrats are now a little better than 50-50 to win the House. This is the first time this cycle we've gone beyond 50-50 odds on a House. We're making 17 House ratings changes this week, all in favor of the Democrats."

  • According to the House Press Gallery page, the GOP controls 236 seats, Democrats 193 and there are six vacancies. 218 are needed for a majority.

  • Over the weekend, CNN's John King presented the network's current rankings. According to the network the Democrats have 182 safe seats, Republicans 158.

  • The Ds have 9 likely wins, Rs 29.

  • Still less sure are the 12 districts that are "leaning" D and the 18 that are leaning R.

  • But, the big worry for Republicans are the 27 "toss-up" districts. Of those 27, 25 are currently held by Republicans, meaning the House Republicans have a lot of defending to do.

  • Good numbers for the GOP on the economy, but bad numbers on House predictions.

  • Stay tuned.

  • On the Secret Decoder Ring today: Good links today from the NY Times and from CBS news on the GDP numbers, and to the UVa and CNN summaries of the upcoming House elections.

    The Mullfoto is of the "Blood Moon" that occurred over the weekend. I took this shot with my iPhone X on Portrait Mode, from about 6,700 feet in Park City, Utah.

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