For what it’s worth, I did watch the debate, but chose not to live tweet or FB about it. It seemed to matter more to hear what was said than be distracted. My take matches much of what I’ve read since then: It featured a poised, informed presidential candidate that you might or might not agree with on policy against a blustering, interrupting blowhard spewing provably false word salad. Do I need to tell you who was who? Time and again, Clinton was able to goad Trump into responses that bordered on being unhinged. Like others have said before, there would be many problems with a Trump presidency, but the greatest danger is his temperament. He is simply too thin-skinned, too easily provoked. Certainly this would be a danger in the international arena. Who can guess what he’ll order our military to do? But I believe it would also be a danger at home. I find it too easy to envision him using federal law enforcement agencies to investigate and punish perceived enemies. And I don’t care what party you are from. You would not be safe if you questioned him – or worse yet, personally insulted him. Again, I am not a fan of Clinton. I’m certain I would have strong disagreements with her on policy should she become president. And there is always that remarkable ability of the Clintons to create drama when it could have easily been avoided. But she’s not nuts. And this time around, that’s good enough for me.
Look, if you’re a Republican, there’s still a responsible one in the race, and it’s Clinton. Yes, I know she’s a liberal Republican, which is galling. You thought you had successfully driven those from the party and didn’t need them anymore. And no, you won’t get to satisfy your irrepressible urge to vote for your party, no matter what, since she’s nominally a Democrat. But you will likely get most of the policies you want – which will be well within international norms for a conservative party. Your other choice is a radical, bigoted, white nationalist agenda – well, unless Trump is lying about that, too. Sorry your party has put you in such a jam, but it’s not like you couldn’t see this coming. It’s too bad that your base stopped taking you seriously and wanted someone who brazenly talked the talk you only hinted at. And he won by repudiating all of the economic ideas that you thought were your orthodoxy – bashing trade and whatnot. Now you’re worried he’ll actually mean it. So you’re left with Clinton, which quite honestly, I don’t think you’ll find such a bad choice at all.
And this is the post where I get to demonstrate what a naturally pessimistic person I am.
Yesterday there was genuinely good economic news for typical Americans. The real median household income in the U.S. – the income at which half of American households earn less and half earn more, adjusted for inflation – increased for the first time since the Great Recession. It rose 5.2%from 2014 to 2015 to $56,516. And not only did it rise, but it was the single biggest yearly gain since the Census Bureau started keeping this score. Also, the gains were widespread. Americans at every level of income, every demographic group, and in every region of the country made more money. In fact, more of the gains went to the lower end of the economic spectrum, defying long-term trends. Again, this is all fantastic news.
But, put in context, it’s clear how much further we have to go.
First off, this is one year’s worth of data. We need sustained growth in income to dig out the enormous hole most Americans have been in since the Great Recession. The 2015 median income is still 1.6% below what it was in 2007. Looking longer-term, it’s 2.4% below the peak set in 1999. When it comes to the most vulnerable, the bottom 10% of income earners, as Eduardo Porter points out in the New York Times, they are still slightly poorer than they were in 1989. Porter makes this further point about the data, too:
What’s more, changes starting in 2013 in the way the census asks people about their incomes can distort comparisons with previous years. After adjusting the data for these changes, according to Elise Gould of the Economic Policy Institute, the income of American households in the middle of the distribution last year was still 4.6 percent below its level in 2007 and 5.4 percent below where it was in 1999.
Again, much more sustained growth is needed. But I worry that is at risk. We’re seven years into an economic recovery. Hopefully, that does not mean there is a recession around the corner, but the risk is not zero. Also, many Federal Reserve officials just can’t stop talking about raising interest rates, which under the usual pattern, would lead to slower growth. I understand the concerns. Because of insufficient action by the federal and many state governments, the Fed ended up being tasked with fighting off the Great Recession mostly by itself, and it used a variety of extraordinary means to do so. The upshot is the Fed might not have many tools left to fight the next recession when it comes.
Turning to politics – it is an election season, after all – it’s not hard to understand why these number are being celebrated. Donald Trump has built his campaign, in part, on declaring the U.S. economy is swirling cesspool of misery. It turns out – like so much of what he says – to not be true. In the end, I’m uncertain how much direct impact the presidency has on growing the economy. Mostly I think they can avoid hindering it too much. But if you’re inclined to use economic metrics as a way of judging what party should be in power, well, then you should vote for Democrats. But do I really think any of this will really persuade Trump supporters to turn away from him? Sadly, no.