The Economy is Less Bad For Some, Still Bad For Others

FiveThirty-Eight offers a thoughtful article with a misleading title: The Economy is Better. Why Don’t Voters Believe It?

This is one of the central paradoxes of the 2016 presidential campaign. The economy is, by virtually any measure, drastically improved from when President Obama took office nearly seven years ago. And yet poll after poll reveals a national electorate that is deeply skeptical of that progress. In one recent Wall Street Journal poll, more than half of voters said the economic and political system was “stacked against people like me.” That sense of alienation has fueled the insurgent candidacies of Trump and Bernie Sanders, and led even establishment candidates to emphasize inequality, middle-class stagnation and related issues.

I write ‘misleading’ because FiveThirty-Eight answers their own question, but refuses to accept it.

The easiest explanation for this paradox is that it isn’t a paradox at all: Americans are pessimistic about the economy because, for many of them, the economy hasn’t gotten better. Unemployment is down, but incomes are flat. Millions of Americans left the labor force in the recession and haven’t returned. Millions more are stuck in low-wage jobs or are working part time because they can’t find full-time work.

Since the Great Recession, hardly anyone trusts the people that tell us the economy is great (cough, Jim Cramer, cough, Ben Stein, cough). We don’t even believe Robert Reich when he tells us that we can grow our way out of debt.

Many of us are spending more on necessities, and giving up luxuries. Many of us know people that are essentially unemployed, living off relatives, and abusing alcohol, meth, even heroin. One might dismiss them as ne’er-do-wells, but most of these people used to have good jobs.

FiveThirty-Eight goes on to show us all sorts of people that are doing well – but so what. I know some people that are doing well. I just know more that aren’t.

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4 responses to “The Economy is Less Bad For Some, Still Bad For Others”

  1. Invisible Mikey says :

    And I know more that ARE “better off”, so our personal experiences cancel each other out and are irrelevant to answering the question of whether the economy is better or not.

    There are so many other ambiguities unanswered by the question. By what measure do we define better or worse? It can’t be as simple as cash on hand or net worth. How about your health status and its connection to your stress levels, related to your finances? What about people who fell for the spiels given by salespersons of badly constructed loans or mortgages? Is that the salesperson’s fault, the debtor’s, or both? Or neither, because the “American Dream” is based on unsustainable practices and unrealistic saving/spending behavior.

    To what degree do we blame those who choose to own too much, or take on too much debt because they can’t do the math and don’t understand compound interest? Most people don’t even seem capable of deciding to limit their number of kids based on how much it costs to raise one!

    Students are taking on too much debt because they choose to “pursue their bliss” instead of in-demand professions where there are tax incentives (sometimes they even pay the student’s way completely). Do we blame the students, the institutions, or a culture that offers the message that you ought to be able to do whatever you like best as a profession?

    I know my opinions sound callous, but I made many of the same mistakes I listed myself. It takes years, sometimes decades to learn from these kinds of unwise choices. And you have to be willing to learn.

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    • Donal says :

      So you think the economy is great if only we are callous enough to take advantage of it?

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      • Invisible Mikey says :

        My point was that it’s foolish to tie your own plans to rising economies, or having to have a good one, because economies are all cyclical. Smart people can gain whether the economy is good OR bad. People will always need basics. If you provide either a basic, essential product or service, you will always do fine.

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        • Donal says :

          Well my point was that it is foolish to listen to MSM or Internet media outlets that insist that the economy is getting better. We first have to accept that the economy is broken before something better can emerge.

          Just because some people can survive a poor situation through a combination of luck and skill does not mean the rest should not try to change the situation so that more people can survive.

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