The final GDP growth figures for 2017 are out, which gives us an opportunity to answer this question: Is America currently experiencing a spectacular Trump Boom, in which the economy delivering so much winning that we’re all tired of winning?
The answer is: Of course not. And it would be too much to expect any president to do that in their first year. The problem, though, is that that is exactly what Trump and his most sycophantic advocates are claiming.
To give you just one example: This morning on the president’s favorite show, “Fox & Friends,” Fox business fop Stuart Varney told viewers:
“You had eight years of 2 percent growth in the Obama years, now you’ve started out the first year in the Trump years with 3 percent growth. And as I said, I think you’re going to get closer to 4 percent by the end of this calendar year.”
Sounds great! Except we didn’t start out in the first year of the Trump presidency with 3 percent growth. We started out with 2.3 percent growth. Here’s a chart of GDP growth since the Great Recession (data from here):
Just to be clear, no one is saying the economy is doing poorly under Trump, because it isn’t — it’s essentially continuing along the path it was on before he took office. GDP growth is steady but fairly low, unemployment is extremely low, wages are very slowly starting to tick up, and so on. In the American economy today almost anyone can find a job, but it may not be the kind of job they want.
We’ll get to more on that in a moment, but before we leave the topic of Trump’s supposedly amazing first year, let’s look at yearly job creation over the same period:
The economy added just over 2 million jobs in 2017, which is the lowest since 2010, when we were still dragging ourselves out of the recession.
Of course, that’s not the story you hear from the president. He likes to argue in anecdotes: every time a corporation says it’s going to create some jobs, it’s proof that his stewardship is bringing spectacular results. But in an economy as enormous as ours, corporations are constantly adding jobs and cutting jobs, and the fact that a few thousand are being created here or there tells you nothing about how the entire economy is doing.
Trump may trumpet every time a factory opens, but he won’t talk about, for instance, the steady stream of job losses in the retail sector. And Trump’s more specific promises aren’t being kept, either. Remember how he was going to revive the coal industry? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, last January coal mining employed 50,000 Americans, and as of December it employed 50,500 Americans. Quite the coal revival. Remember that Carrier plant in Indiana Trump worked so hard to “save”? They’ve laid off 600 people.
But isn’t the stock market up, as Trump never tires of telling us? Yes it is — the S&P 500 rose over 20 percent in 2017. Which is not as much as it grew in, say, 2013, when it rose 30 percent and some Kenyan communist whose name I can’t remember was president, but it’s still doing quite well. And if your economic well-being is tied closely to the stock market, that’s good for you.
But for most Americans, the performance of the stock market matters little if at all. At a more fundamental level, Trump is taking the most acute problems the American economy faces and exacerbating them. He’s showering benefits on the wealthy and corporations. He’s moving power away from workers and into the hands of employers. He’s allowing corporations a freer hand to mistreat their employees, pollute the environment, and screw over consumers without accountability. He’s also helping Republicans launch a war on the safety net. The net effect of all these policies will be to increase inequality, the most critical long-term problem the economy faces.
None of that is going to stop the White House from saying over and over that Trump’s extraordinary leadership has made us all prosperous. Nor will it stop Trump supporters from attributing everything good that happens in the economy to Trump, just as they insisted when Barack Obama was president that he had nothing to do with any positive developments.
Who knows, maybe this time, unlike every other time before, tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations really will trickle down to the rest of us. And maybe Donald Trump really will deliver us all to a glittering future of boundless prosperity. But given that he’s enacting the same policies that failed to do so under previous Republican administrations, there’s little reason to think he will. And he certainly hasn’t done it yet.